[Warning: This post contains spoilers for Episode 3 of Star Trek: Discovery titled "Context Is for Kings." Read at your own risk.]
Sunday night's Star Trek: Discovery introduced a wiley new captain — and he's not like the others that came before him. Setting himself apart from Kirk, Picard and Janeway, Jason Isaacs' Lorca isn't too fond of sitting in the captain's chair, and opts to stand while occasionally indulging in fortune cookies, instead.
More importantly, in an effort to change the tide of the Federation's war with the Klingons, he's been given free reign to experiment with a variety of weapons and lifeforms — including spores that could make transporting anywhere in the galaxy in the blink of an eye a possibility. In order to complete his mission (and save the human race for annihilation), he's enlisted down-and-out mutineer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green).
TV Guide caught up with Isaacs to break down Lorca's plans for the war; and what exactly scares the man who doesn't fear the things normal people do. Plus, the actor discusses his deep love of the Star Trek franchise and how he avoided fanboying on set.
How did you get involved with Star Trek: Discovery?
The truth is I wanted to say no because I loved Star Trek growing up and I thought it could never be better or even matched. And then I met them and I read their stuff, and I realized that it while it's in the Trek universe, it's completely different. It's of our times, for our times, set in the future. It's a serialized thing. My captain is unlike any other captains we've seen before. I'm dying to know what happens next.
What was it like the first day on set?
I did a really simple job which sometimes is tricky to do. You just have to imagine you are somebody else in a different situation. And I am imagining being somebody who is at war; so then that part of my imagination is engaged...so the bit that goes "Holy mother f--king god! You're in Star Trek and you've got a phaser" is quieted down, hopefully. The only time that seven-year-old child started jumping out and screaming [was] when I said the word, "energize" and I just freaked out inside. I just wanted to leap up and down and go, "I just said energize!" And nobody seemed particularly impressed because it wasn't their first transport.
What's Lorca's beef with the Klingons?
They're trying to kill me and everyone I've ever met, and destroy every planet that is in federation space. So my beef is I'd like to stay alive. The other one is I've seen a lot of death, I've caused a lot of death and I understand what war is. And I'm burdened with this ship, this science ship with a bunch of explorers on it who aren't warriors or soldiers and maybe I've discovered some technology that if I refine it, might begin to give us an edge in the war that we're losing badly, and are likely to be annihilated.
In the scene where Lorca reveals his amazing discovery to Michael Burnham, he explains that spores can help transport people anywhere in the galaxy in an instant. Can you speak further to that?
It's a spore network that if you tap into correctly, [you] should be able to. We're a billion lightyears from being able to do that, but there might be some technology whereby we can jump to anywhere and back again and keep jumping — which'll mean that we finally have the edge in this war that we're losing badly. But it's gonna take a bunch of time. It's gonna take this idiot of a science officer to take his thumb out of his a-- and take some shortcuts and experiments because we can't run five-year double blind tests with control groups. We're at war right now. We need the solutions right now.
Why does Lorca have a room full of animals?
We're losing this war and I've been given license to do whatever the hell is necessary to try and see if I can in any way shift the odds. And so I have in my private study area, anything I want including weapons, gasses, poisons, creatures... Anything that, if examined correctly, might give us an edge because we need something to turn the tide in the war. And that's why someone like me has been given this ship and given license to go off and — not under the glare of anyone else's spotlight — see if I can come up with a solution, any kind of creative solutions to this problem of imminent destruction.
So the tardigrade might be one, some of the Klingon weapons I've got might be it... The spores might be it. I just need something and I need it fast and I need people to help me, and hence, one of the reasons why I get Michael Burnham to be on my team. She is someone who's prepared to break the rules... Someone who's really smart strategically and someone who I think will ultimately be loyal to me since I've given her a second chance at life.
What's up with Lorca and the fortune cookies?
They were in his family business hundreds of years ago and he quite likes the taste of them. He has a bowl on hand because it's his little ready room and he's allowed to have whatever snacks there. It's just an indulgence he has and it's kinda fun. And also, he quite likes playing around with Michael Burnham and wants her to read her fortune, but she doesn't want to do it. The point is that she's gonna create her own fortune by making the right decision by the end of the episode. By the way, I had to eat hundreds of them in the scene we did together and nobody wants to do that again.
In the episode, Saru refers to him as a "man who doesn't fear the things normal people fear." What are his fears, if any?
He's got plenty of fears, but he can't show them. He's a wartime leader. It's really important to him that the crew are inspired and slightly afraid and intimidated by him. If they detect any insecurity or fear on his part, then they won't do their job well and they'll start to fear and panic will spread. Behind closed doors, with Burnham, who he sees as intellectually and strategically his equal, he's prepared to be more vulnerable. And so maybe he doesn't know the way. Maybe he's not sure he's gonna win the war. They need to win the war and he'll pretend to everyone else that they're going to win the war but alone with her, I think he's probably more likely to share that he's hoping they'll win the war. So his fears are of not succeeding, of not being strong enough and of letting his crew down.
What can you tease about the rest of the season?
What I can say is that they've created a 15-hour drama that is like taking a roller coaster ride, but it's more about character than it is about plot. And you're gonna be more involved and invested and engaged in people's... in their journeys than you've ever been before on Star Trek. And that includes Lorca and his engagement with everybody else.
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