Season two was a big year for the cast and crew of Star Trek Discovery, CBS All Access’ modern prequel series to The Original Series. Season one of the show built its foundation on new characters with some loose ties to the grander story but that all changed with the reintroduction of Spock and Captain Pike of the USS Enterprise to the narrative. Ethan Peck and Anson Mount, who played Spock and Pike respectively, sat down to talk about their time aboard USS Discovery.
Anson Mount opened the conversation explaining that he was a massive fan of TOS as a child and enjoyed The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine as well, so he had a solid foundation of Trek knowledge. He even paraphrased a Gene Roddenberry quote mid-panel, about how Star Trek reminds us that despite all that is going on in the world today, that there is a tomorrow. That optimism and hopefulness is one of the key things that makes Trek great he believes. When he got word he was to join this universe, he wasn’t sure if he should be overjoyed or sick considering the responsibly and the opportunity. The job would become the most surreal part of his career thus far.
Ethan Peck, with his bassy voice, also chipped in what it was like getting the call-or rather, text in his case-to become the next Spock. There are a lot of expectations when taking on a role as iconic as Spock, a character that is known to people that have never even seen Star Trek in their lives. In case you were wondering, the text message read: “Welcome aboard, Mr. Spock.” When he was auditioning for the part, the casting department never told him it was for Spock so the revelation was a bit overwhelming at first.
Peck would go on to explain that he read Leonard Nimoy’s autobiography and got the blessing and advice from the Nimoy family on how to carry the torch that is Spock. When reading the book, Peck realized that the revelations he was making about Spock were similar in nature to what Nimoy himself unravelled when he first began exploring Spock. Peck and Mount both stated that they’ve become custodians of their respective characters and that they made sure to keep the spirit and core of their characters alive and familiar while exploring new avenues that would make sense. Case in point, the fact that Discovery reveals Spock has dyslexia. That reveal, he said, made sense to him in that Spock processes so much information and because of that, he gained insight and empathy to the psychology that is often stigmatized.
When asked, by yours truly, how much freedom they had in shaping their respective characters while bearing in mind that they are legacy characters and that there will be some expectations from fans about what each character does, the duo explained that a huge chunk of what gets represented on screen is in the hands of the writers and that they’re the ones who are responsible for what the characters did for the most part throughout the season. Peck stated that he initially had no plans for how to portray Spock as he didn’t even know he was auditioning for Spock, which limited how much time he had to prepare for the role. But the dialogue he used during auditions was an interpretation of what Spock would ultimately say in the show, so he wasn’t completely in the dark about how to bring the character to life. Once he knew he was to play Spock, he began watching The Original Series and even practiced his lines against Leonard Nimoy’s lines on television.
Mount gave a little anecdote about one of Peck’s early days on set, the second time the Pike actor actually met his co-star. Peck showed up around halfway through the second season and sat down next to Mount at one of the table reads. Peck goes “look what I found” and actually pulls out the original blueprints to the 1969 Enterprise. While Peck was over the moon excited about his find, Mount’s first reaction, having only met Peck one other time, was “you’re interesting.” But at the end of all that, Peck gifted the blueprints to Mount. Mount has since had the blueprints framed.
Peck stated to Mount that he had so much more freedom when it came to portraying Pike due to him being a much smaller character in the overall Star Trek universe, whether from the Roddenberry series or the J.J. Abrams reboot. Mount agreed with this and stated that his Pike couldn’t be an angry young man anymore but rather, he was going to be an optimistic Captain. Mount would cap this segment off by stating that for him at least, 5-10% of the research that goes into a job is for inspiration while the other 90% is actually more to calm you the hell down and make you feel like you’ve done your homework. Despite all that research and prep, Mount only felt he really got comfortable with Pike at around episodes nine or ten, well into the season.
Peck went into the fact that he was terrified stepping into the role of Spock due to his legacy and how beloved the character is. But he ignored the fear and by the time the ears were put on him during makeup, he began to compartmentalize and see the bigger picture and fully ease into the role of Spock. Peck did state that he needed a lot of notes for the role as he wanted it to be as “Spock” as possible and put his trust in the writers to help him bring the role to life.
It wasn’t all Star Trek at the Discovery panel, however. Anson Mount is also well known for playing the character Cullen Bohannon on the hit western show Hell on Wheels-a show I happen to highly recommend. Mount stated that the pilot for that show was one of the best he had ever read at the time and the lead role was one of those roles that seemingly everyone wanted to land. Despite the character being from Mississippi and Mount being raised in Tennesse, he really wanted this role. But he was told multiple times that he was too contemporary for the role, which was to take place in the years immediately following the American Civil War and would be about the construction of the transcontinental railroad. He mentioned that for “testosterone” filled roles that like, it’s not uncommon for productions to look for actors from Australia, for whatever reason.
But Mount really identified with the role and pushed himself and ultimately landed it. Mount would eventually become a producer on the series. He also mentioned that science fiction and westerns aren’t too dissimilar-just look at Firefly or Star Wars for examples-so making the jump from Hell on Wheels to Star Trek actually felt easy in a way. He felt Pike was a bit of a cowboy anyway. Mount did reveal that genre doesn’t play a big factor when playing a tone, something he says can lead to bad acting-so take note.
Mount also briefly talked about his podcast, The Well, which he co-hosts with Branan Edgens. He talked about how he hunts for stories and interviews and actually won’t publish anything that he feels doesn’t go anywhere. There are a whole slew of interviews just sitting on his hard drive that won’t see the light of day he says. He says that when it comes to a story, he goes in seeking one but quite often, the story evolves during the interview, naturally developing. I’ve since listened to some episodes of The Well and find it quite interesting! Fun fact-Mount likes anime!
Peck revealed that the show actually was fortunate enough to film chronologically thanks to the use of sets and the specific stages, so he was able to make the natural transition from “homeless Spock” to “Bridge Spock” quite naturally, something he feels helped his performance. By the end, he felt like he had earned a graduation with the character. Another benefit, Mount stated, is that the writers were actually on sight and that fact plays a key role in him choose in his roles. Having the notes on things like intentions, the most direct understanding allows for a naturally develop to process for the characters.
While not the end of the panel, this seems like the most natural way to end this lengthier piece, much like how I opened it: Mount was talking about how there are an unusually higher about of LGBTQ people in the science fiction genre, whether it be film, television or literature. And his belief for this is because science fiction, looking towards tomorrow, offers one thing: hope.
That wraps up our coverage of Montreal Comiccon! Check out our other bits from the convention, including what Elijah Wood had to say about his career, a deep dive with The Umbrella Academy and a tardy Darth Maul talks about everything from working out to plumbing!