In Season 1 of Star Trek: Discovery, Ambassador Sarek — Spock and Michael Burnham's dad — shut down all public knowledge of alternate dimensions, specifically the wicked Mirror Universe. Now, James Frain, the actor who revitalized the role of Sarek for Discovery, is regulating the borders of parallel universes again, this time as Allendale, a shadowy figure in the latest episode of Jordan Peele's rebooted The Twilight Zone, "Point of Origin." Like a lot of this season of the new Zone, "Point of Origin" tackles contemporary political issues with a science fiction twist you might not see coming.
**Spoilers ahead for The Twilight Zone Season 1, Episode 8, "Point of Origin," and Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery.**
In "Point of Origin," Ginnifer Goodwin plays Eve Martin, a housewife whose world crumbles when she's taken away by an ICE-like agency and tortured by one its agents, played by Frain, who soon unearths some unusual memories.
SYFY WIRE caught up with Frain to talk about what it was like crossing over from Star Trek to The Twilight Zone, how a bad guy thinks, and why a good actor doesn't think about genre.
You're terrifying in this episode. Your character thinks he's doing the right thing though. How did you unpack that as an actor?
Pretty much [everyone] thinks they are good. Pretty much everyone justifies any kind of bad behavior as necessary according to circumstances. There are very, very few people like Richard III, who are like, "Ha ha ha, I am evil and I dig it." Those people are very rare. Most people sort of self-justify.
For this guy [Allendale], the context from which people who do things from the outside that look reprehensible are often group-dynamic based or authority based. So, he is a government official, he has a task. His task is to weed out potential threats. And the people from the other dimension are presented as a threat — maybe an existential threat in reality — and his job [in] serving his government is to deal with these threats. He's not murdering people; in his mind, he's sending them back to where they come from. There's no confusion in his mind as to who is wrong and who is right. She [Eve, played by Ginnifer Goodwin] is wrong and he is right.
The new Twilight Zone is clearly making commentary on contemporary immigration issues here. How does that relate to the real world?
We have a tendency to assume that government agencies will do the right thing. But, we're finding, I think recently that government agencies answer to the ruling regime. So, those agencies might have to engage in activities that would have seemed unreasonable under the previous regime. I'm not sure there's a moral check that comes into play with the government. At least not as much as we might assume.
This isn't your first dance with parallel universes. In Season 1 of Star Trek: Discovery, Sarek makes the Mirror Universe classified. How would this Twilight Zone story have played out had been a Star Trek story instead?
Wow! I had really not made that connection! That's interesting. But, I think they are different kinds of stories — Star Trek and The Twilight Zone. Even the genres are different. This is essentially a thriller. From what I understand, this is perhaps the darkest and most politically-minded, [most] metaphorical of all the different Twilight Zones. So, the decision of the direction was to give it a kind of Cold War look. And I think that helps with the sort of paranoid context of the story.
But, Star Trek is a whole different kind of beast. Obviously, you can see some of the same kinds of narratives, but I don't think there's a relationship beyond the superficial one.
How do you feel about the genres and subgenres of science fiction?
When I get a role, I don't think of the genre. I don't think about the context. I think about the person as a person. How do they see themselves? How do they see their world? How do they interact with their world? I always look at those questions first. If they happen to be an ambassador or in a parallel dimension; that's just the context of the story.
People are people wherever they show up. I'm always just looking for the human heartbeat. I don't tend to get preoccupied with the ethos of the genre. I don't know how other actors think about their process, but acting is pretty timeless and it's always about character over the genre. I don't think it helps to think too much about the genre.
Sarek obviously doesn't die in Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery, but because of the jump into the future, it seems unlikely you'll be in Season 3. What was it like saying goodbye to the cast of Discovery?
It's a really special show. Sonequa [Martin-Green] is an extraordinary actress, but she's an exemplary human being. She was a joy to work with and everyone just loves her. She's really created a kind of family on Star Trek. It's a special and beautiful thing, and I'm sad to leave it behind. I still have that family. Playing Sarek was great. I really enjoyed it. But I'm excited to move on to the next challenge.
Star Trek: Discovery and The Twilight Zone are both streaming on CBS All Access.