Stepping into the shoes of “Captain” is not an easy job, especially when the names that have come before as Kirk, Picard and Janeway, especially for a fan who has watched the original show. After conducting a panel with his fellow actors at the CBS All Access TCA Press Day for the new season of “Star Trek – Discovery”, Anson Mount, aka Captain Christopher Pike, spoke exclusively with The Inside Reel about process, texture of character and the sometimes trickiness of canon.
Could you talk a little bit about finding Pike physically? And then mentally, on that note?
Anson Mount: Well, the physical demands is to keep those uniforms fitting (laughing). Not fun for a 45-year-old man. Combined with amazing catering…it’s like torture. (laughing) I loved how Chris Pine sort of perfectly mimics the way that Kirk crossed the bridge and sat on the chair. I wanted to see if I could do it as well as him (laughing) even though it’s a different character, I didn’t really care.
Is that the essence of confidence? Or is it bringing out certain elements of that?
AM: No. It was just an outside-in way of getting comfortable in the captain’s chair because Pike and Kirk are very, very different captains. Kirk leads from the gut. Pike leads from the Star Fleet code of conduct, you know? Very, very different characters.
When you get an established character, can you in a certain way wipe it clean and then writing your own version?
AM: No. It’s a matter of having the first act and the third act, but no second act. You’re being asked to step in and fill out the second act. And first-act Pike and third-act Pike are different Pikes. They say that we literally regenerate every cell in our body every 7 years, so we’re literally different people. So I didn’t really feel constrained at all. I felt the freedom to make Pike my version of Pike.
Kirk always almost had, I think, a jealousy of Pike because of how much Spock loved him. You saw that in “The Cage” (and by extension the TOS episode “The Menagerie”). You being very familiar with canon….there’s so much probably that Pike does not say that we’ll see later in the season. Could you talk about that white space?
AM: About the relationship with Spock?
AM: It was really a matter of feeling it out as the writers figured it out. Really, I got lucky to be handed an actor as incredible as Ethan Peck (as Spock). That guy right there is going to be a big, fat movie star. He’s got it all. Wait until you see him. And he’s a really, really, really good actor. We kind of also took some of the cues from our own friendship that we gained on set. He’s such a lovely guy and, sort of, getting his feet wet in this world for the first time. He was sort of leaning on me perhaps for a few answers to some of the questions that plague us as younger actors.
What questions? About fame? Or walking into this universe?
AM: Just, in general, am I screwing this up? Or just nervous stuff. Because it’s not going to help you. He’d [also] never done TCA before so I was like, “We’re working.” It’s like watching a NFL game from the pressbox. (laughing) Just know that.
But it is daunting kind of walking into this universe, given its history and the fandom for it.
AM: If I sit around and think about it. Yah. Thankfully this role came to me late enough that I’ve learned that when I find myself daunted, it means I’m usually not doing my homework. And I need to put down the mirror and, you know, the internet, and all the bullshit that surrounds what we do. And get to work. Because it just doesn’t help you.
Is it easy to get caught up in though? Because no one is immune to the aspect of expectation…
AM: A little bit. I mean look. We all have a media machine in our pocket. So it’s hard to miss. Your friends are texting you things. You can’t avoid it. But you get better at just filtering it and putting it aside.
Right. But before that happened, what was your impression because you’re such a fan of Star Trek… just stepping in.
AM: Oh my god, it was completely surreal. I mean the first time, I sat in the chair I got quite emotional. And then every day on set – literally every day there’s a moment that you look around and you go, “Wow. I’m in Star Trek. Me. I. Me. I’m the Star Trek. I’m in the captain’s chair. I’m the captain. How did that happen?” Like, I was doing this for free as a kid and now they want to pay me.
I know. I heard a little bit of Shatner right there.
AM: Yeah right.
What was your favorite episode then. You said you grew up with the Kirk. What was your favorite episode?
AM: I always– I can’t remember the title of it, but it’s the episod where he battled the Gorn.
AM: I can not turn that episode off when it’s on. I have to see the slow-motion fight choreography. And the double ax handle from the back of the neck.
Did you want to find a bit of that logic and physicality in Pike?
AM: What I like about Pike is that he’s egoless. He knows that when his bridge crew is working together, [that]is a bigger brain than he will ever have. And that’s what he does– and you’ve seen it already…he’s very good about saying, “I’m lost. Anybody got a better idea?” And he does that throughout the season. I think it makes for great television.
Can you speak to the emotional challenges that he’ll go through?
AM: He goes through some major emotional challenges in this season. I can’t talk about any of them. (laughing) But, you know, I was challenged as an actor on this job as much as I’ve ever been challenged.
The one thing I liked about –obviously we had only seen a couple episodes so far — is the aspect that there’s a feeling a little bit more of the old Star Trek. They’re going and doing problem-solving on our planet. The second episode does that. Could you talk about looking at these scripts and seeing this kind of elements of the character come out?
AM: It’s funny establishing a character on television. You have to be very very very careful about the footprints you’re putting down. Because they’re going to be there forever. They’re going in cement. And particularly with a character that’s as celebrated as this one has been in the past. But you have to remember that it’s not all in your hands. The writers are trying to figure it out at the same time. And so as long as you have a good communication with your writers and he’s [pointing to Alex Kurtzman] an incredible leader, then you’re probably going to be okay. And it was great to learn about this man, this character I’ve come to respect, even more. You’re playing him as we continue through the season. There were moments I was surprised. “So yeah okay. I’ll go with that.'”
Does it make it harder because you know all the intricacies of Star Trek? I mean, you were talking how your favorite character is Data. I’d love for you to talk a little bit more about that.
AM: Say again.
Well, it’s a two-part question. Why did you love Data as a character so much? And how come that appealed to you? You were talking about him, this is your favorite character.
AM: I’m actually jealous that another actor got to play that role. I mean — I can’t think of a better role than a machine trying to figure out what it means to have true sentience. It’s just a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful character. And Brent Spiner did such an amazing job.
My question is also the aspects of canon. When you read the script, you’re probably like, “I see that. I see that. I see that. I see that.” Can you talk about the joy of that? Reading the scripts as a fan and getting to play them.
AM: In terms of my character?
AM: Overall…I mean there’s some things that I honestly I didn’t know. I mean there some really esoteric stuff and easter eggs in our show. Like the Saurians. I didn’t know the Saurians had been established in “Wrath of Khan” for like a second. Okay. That was cool. But yeah we will be referencing canon associate with Pike. But probably not in the way that most are imagining it. I’ll leave you with that.
By Tim Wassberg