Meet the new­comer be­hind Star Trek: Dis­cov­ery’s ex­citable cadet

SFX - - Contents - Words by Ian Ber­ri­man /// Pho­tog­ra­phy by Jay L Clen­denin

Beam aboard Star Trek: Dis­cov­ery with Starfleet cadet Tilly. “I felt like In­spec­tor Gad­get!” she tells us. Still wait­ing for the tele­scop­ing robo-arms, miss.

one thing we’re ap­pre­ci­at­ing about the lat­est it­er­a­tion of Star Trek is that the char­ac­ters aren’t all su­per-ca­pa­ble stuffed shirts, but peo­ple with hu­man frail­ties and foibles. Take Sylvia Tilly, a cadet serv­ing on her first deep-space mis­sion, whose en­dear­ing ner­vous­ness and breath­less bab­bling are pro­vid­ing an au­di­ence iden­ti­fi­ca­tion fig­ure. As Dis­cov­ery pro­ducer Ted Sul­li­van told SFX, “For me, who grew up dress­ing like Sulu and go­ing to cons, she rep­re­sents the viewer who wants to be in the show.” We rather fear Tilly’s op­ti­mism may be crushed by war. But early on, she’s added some lighter notes in the midst of Dis­cov­ery’s dark­ness.

It’s a break­through role for Mary Wise­man, who was per­form­ing in off-Broad­way the­atre be­fore she snagged the part. In the flesh, Wise­man’s not quite as wet-be­hind-the-ears as Tilly, but does prove ev­ery bit as charm­ing. A bliz­zard of red curls and gig­gles, she’s still pinch­ing her­self that she’s part of this uni­verse – and clearly lov­ing ev­ery minute of it. What’s been your ap­proach to play­ing Tilly?

Well, she’s in her fourth year at Starfleet Academy, and I like to think she’s on Dis­cov­ery as an un­paid in­tern – like, that’s her in­tern­ship for the fi­nal credit. But this is the best in­tern­ship she could ever get. Her dream is to rise in the ranks of Starfleet, so she’s ex­actly where she wants to be. How much did you know about your char­ac­ter arc when you got the part?

Noth­ing – I didn’t know if I was an alien or not un­til I got here! The script they gave us to au­di­tion self­de­struc­ted af­ter 48 hours, so I felt like In­spec­tor Gad­get! Wait… the script self-de­struc­ted?!

Dig­i­tally! It sounds like my iPad ex­ploded, but it’s not that cool. It just all went away. I tried to take a screen­shot and it self-de­struc­ted. But based on the script that I read, I knew this char­ac­ter was gonna be right in the sweet spot. This is your first time as a reg­u­lar in a TV se­ries. Does that mean you can re­ally re­late to Tilly, as the new­bie in an ex­pe­ri­enced crew?

Yeah! It’s very easy for me to do it. When we had a readthrough of my first episode I was shak­ing with nerves to do a readthrough with all these peo­ple I’d seen in so many dif­fer­ent things. For Tilly it was per­fect, be­cause she was so ner­vous to meet Michael [Burn­ham] and start work­ing on the ship. I know ex­actly how she feels all the time, be­cause I’m go­ing through it! I’m learn­ing things ev­ery day, and I qui­etly ask peo­ple ques­tions all the time. Were you a Star Trek fan be­fore you got the part?

I grew up watch­ing a bit of The Next Gen­er­a­tion with my un­cle, but my boyfriend and his par­ents are hard­core dress-up, go-to-con­ven­tions Trekkies. When I got this job, my boyfriend’s mom cried! I took a lit­tle video of Jonathan Frakes [Com­man­der Riker in The Next Gen­er­a­tion; now a di­rec­tor on Dis­cov­ery] for her and I did not play it cool. I was like, “Argghh, hello!” and then forced him to take a video with me! Does the fact that they’re fans change the way you view the se­ries?

It put me in touch with how im­por­tant this is to peo­ple. I kinda watched Star Trek as a kid, but re­watch­ing it in prepa­ra­tion I saw so much more in it than I was able to when I was younger, be­cause I have these peo­ple who it means a lot to. It gives me a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity for the kind of story that I’m part of bring­ing for­ward. What do you think it is about Star Trek that peo­ple re­spond to so strongly?

Well, my boyfriend’s mom told my mom that ev­ery­thing she could ever want to teach her son was in Star Trek; that there are lessons about life and how you treat peo­ple, and how a big group of peo­ple treats a big group of other peo­ple. And watch­ing episodes, I see that. I think we do it a lit­tle dif­fer­ently, but I no­tice things like that all the time – lit­tle lessons about how to move through the world. When did it re­ally hit you that you were star­ring in Star Trek, and all that that meant?

On my third or fourth day we had to run through a hall­way re­ally fast. I read the script and it was, “They run through a hall­way.” Then we did it and it was six hours of sprint­ing! I’ve never been a fast run­ner, and Sonequa [Mar­tin-Green] kept go­ing, “Do you need us to go faster? I could go faster.” I was like, “No, please god, don’t go faster!” I don’t think I could walk the next day! That’s when I was like, “Oh my God… I’m in an ac­tion show! This is cool stuff! I get to hold a phaser, run through a hall­way, switch it to kill!” I never imag­ined it for my­self. I’m just to­tally over­whelmed and de­lighted.

Star Trek: Dis­cov­ery is on Net­flix in the UK.

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