With Star Trek: Discovery, the iconic sci-fi franchise boldly goes where none of its predecessors have gone—not only giving viewers the first openly gay character, but Star Trek’s first same-sex couple.
Anthony Rapp stars as science officer Lt. Paul Stamets, who specializes in astromycology (space fungus, basically). His onscreen partner, medical officer Dr. Hugh Culber, is played by Wilson Cruz, another gay actor with a link to Rent.
The CBS All Access series is full of action, special effects, and a compelling conflict between the Federation and the Klingons. With out showrunner Aaron Harberts (Revenge) helping to steer the ship, we’re confident the show will do LGBT representation justice.
Below, we talk to Rapp about Lt. Stamets (who’s actually based on a real-life scientist), plus his onscreen romance, and what we can expect this season.
What’s it like playing the first LGBT character in a Star Trek TV series? Do you feel any obligation to present Lt, Stamets a certain way?
It’s an honor. It’s overwhelming, but the only obligation I felt was to represent a fully realized human being. To feel honest, alive, and human, and our relationship is depicted in a realistic fashion.
Does Discovery take place in a universe where queerness isn’t an issue?
I don’t know about the universe, but it’s certainly not a problem in the Federation. It never comes up in any conversation with another culture or species in our show yet. One of the premises of Star Trek in the first place is humanity has sorted out all these issues. There’s no more division between people because of race, gender, creed, sexual orientation or anything.
So it still might be a problem for Klingons? They’re definitely not chill from what we’ve seen.
I don’t know if there’s any information about their attitudes towards sexual orientation. I know they’re pretty passionate—and apparently if you get a Klingon in bed they would be intense. They’re so much stronger they could probably crush you without meaning to.
How much onscreen romance do we see between Stamets and Culber?
I really don’t want to spoil things. I know they’ve talked about us [first being seen together] brushing our teeth in a very domestic situation, but I don’t want to go into other things. Except to say it’s not like our relationship is hidden—it’s part of the fabric of the story.
You’ve known Wilson Cruz for nearly 20 years. What did that bring to your dynamic together?
It brought real comfort in being with each other. A profound trust, camaraderie and warmth. It’s a bonus it turned out this way—and very funny. Everything about this experience has been so dreamy. It was just another in a long line of dreamy occurrences that he got cast.
Have you talked about fans shipping your characters?
I’ve talked to different people about fanfic over the years: There was one story someone sent me of Adam Pascal and myself, as ourselves, not as Rent’s Roger and Mark. The first paragraph was that I was waking up in bed with Adam and he was feeling guilty about his wife, Cybele.
I was like, “That’s all I’m going to read.” Adam is like a brother to me. I will always support people’s freedom of expression, but I’m not going to read that. Nope.
Have you talked with George Takei?
Not yet, though I’d love to. He tweeted about his happiness that Wilson and I would be in a relationship on the show. I’m an admirer of his activism and his use of his public platform. I’d want to talk to him about that as much as anything—and his experiences working on the original show.
Wilson has met him in his capacity at GLAAD and they had conversations, but that was long before this.
Having consulted with the real-life Paul Stamets, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about fungi so far?
Paul did a TED Talk that started with him saying that mushrooms can save the world and then explained how. We share DNA with almost every life form on the planet, but a tremendous amount with mycelium and mushrooms. There is fungus that can absorb eat toxic and probably radioactive waste and the mushrooms themselves would not be toxic.
One of my biggest hopes is that, through the show’s popularity, more attention will be brought to the important work he’s doing. The science goes really deep. He’s a Star Trek fan himself, so he’s excited this is happening. I will say, having met him, my character is much more persnickety than he is. The real Paul Stamets is super warm and friendly.
What do you hope Discovery accomplishes?
I’m hopeful that it speaks to people who have a profound relationship with the show, as well as people just getting to know it. In the grand tradition of Star Trek,, our show is asking really big questions about what it means to be human—about ethics and morality, and philosophical dilemmas.
But it’s also telling a really exciting story that has suspense, twists, and turns—embedded in this vision of the future where we’ve gotten past differences between ourselves as human beings. So we can rise above to tackle the bigger questions.
Would you judge a Star Trek-inspired challenge on RuPaul’s Drag Race?
I would love to be a judge! The queens could create a new alien race or do a cool drag version of a Starfleet uniform.
Rapp and Cruz will appear this weekend at New York Comic Con.