Playing Captain Christopher Pike in the second season of Star Trek Discovery, Anson Mount knows the responsibility that comes with wearing a Starfleet uniform. We caught up with him ahead of his appearances at Supanova in Sydney and Perth this month.
Christopher Pike appeared in the unaired Original Series pilot and then briefly in the J.J. Abrams’ films. What do you think it is that still makes him such a popular figure in the Star Trek universe?
It’s crazy, isn’t it? I don’t think there’s such a brief character anywhere in canon that is so revered. I think it’s because Christopher Pike is Gene Roddenberry’s first vision of what a Starfleet captain should be.
Were you a Trekker prior to landing the role?
Yes, absolutely! The original series started airing on our local UHF channel, which is local access, when I was about eight, and my mom got me into it. I can still tell you the timeslot – Sunday nights at 6 o’clock, I’ve seen every episode of the original at least three times.
So you knew going in the responsibility that comes with wearing a Starfleet captain’s uniform – not just on the show, but also in terms of fandom…
Absolutely! It’s a small club, isn’t it? I was saying to my wife, and Ethan Peck who plays Spock, that it’s more than just a show to the fans. It really makes me double-check my homework, and be very sure of my choices, particularly playing Christopher Pike. The quality of those choices being in line with the Starfleet code of conduct, but also in terms of the specificity – have I really drilled down on this scene enough to make it worthy of being canon going forward?
The first season of Discovery divided fans with its darker tone, not least the volatile Captain Lorca. The inclusion of Pike and Spock in season two finds it on more traditional ground. Was that what the creators intended?
I can’t speak to their motivations – we hadn’t really discussed that. I do think that the fans really liked having a piece of canon more fully fleshed out, particularly Pike. And I think the writers did a really great job with the challenge.
Did you know going in that you’d be captaining the Discovery?
I was originally in talks with the creators about playing Lorca in the first season, and they very wisely cast Jason Isaacs. So when they were gearing up for the second season, they came back with, ‘What about playing this new captain named Parker? Would you mind putting yourself on tape?’ So I did and they said, ‘You got the part, but it’s not Captain Parker, it’s Captain Pike.’ I wasn’t sure if I was going to vomit or faint [laughs]. I immediately knew what that meant, right? And I couldn’t believe it that it was me! When the audition was sent to me, it stated clearly that it was a one-year contract.
Did you revisit Jeffrey Hunter’s brief take on Pike?
It’s kind of like if I was going to play Hamlet. Of course I would go back and watch Zefferelli’s film and Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet. But at the end of the day I’m not going to make Mel Gibson’s Hamlet or Branagh’s, I’m going to make Anson’s Hamlet. Actors who do a lot of research, myself included, I think we go into it thinking we are looking for the key to the character. But what we’re really doing it for is to calm our nerves, or to provide enough source material so it filters down to some kind of instinct. Although I’m not above stealing [laughs], but I don’t steal directly, I steal from odd sources.
Pike’s dynamic with Michael Burnham is interesting…
One of the things I kind of felt at the outset, and it was important to the relationship, is that as soon as Pike sees Michael Burnham he clearly recognises captain material. And that’s what allows him to say to her, ‘Look, we’re going to trust each other. We’re going to have a special kind of relationship where I’m the new kid in school but I’m also the captain. You’re very ingrained in the culture of this ship, but you’re captain material. Let’s collaborate.
What was it like working with Michelle Yeoh? She always looks like she’s having an absolute blast whenever she’s on screen…
Yeah, she does. She is a constant reserve of just good cheer and fun, and I loved working with her enormously. It’s mind blowing, to be honest, to work with Michelle Yeoh. I remember grabbing the last seat in the house at the Toronto International Film Festival, which held the first screening of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and it would never have occurred to me at that point, when I was like 25, that I would one day be working with Michelle Yeoh. And it wasn’t difficult because she’s immediately disarming – she’s just a member of the team.
There was a fan petition running for a Pike spin-off series – is that something you’d be up for if it happened?
The obvious answer is yes, of course. However, these things are very big, strategic, financial questions that don’t really involve me. But I’ve never had a fan reaction like this to anything I’ve ever done, and I could not be more flattered that there is this fan base out there that is so moved to do something like a petition. I’ve just never seen anything like it. I’m not entirely sure that I deserve it [laughs], but at the same time I can’t take too much credit for it because I’m just the guy who says the words. I think the lion’s share of the credit goes to the writers.
Shatner or Stewart, if you had to choose one?
[Laughs] They both have endearing qualities, but they’re quite different. It’s like asking me, ‘balls or brains?’ Why not both?