No ship or crew gets anywhere without its captain, and in truth, that captain dictates the tone of the journey, not only the success of the mission.
As Captain Christopher Pike, in command of the USS Enterprise on Paramount+’s new series, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Anson Mount steps into a role previously taken on by other actors, but never with the fan anticipation that greeted the premiere of this series.
Speaking virtually with TV Fanatic and other outlets on a recent press day, Mount expresses gratitude and wonder at becoming a part of the Star Trek culture and family.
In terms of broadcast history, Pike is the first captain Star Trek floated for the Enterprise. Before William Shatner portrayed Captain James T. Kirk on the premiere in 1966, Jeffrey Hunter played Pike on the first pilot episode, “The Cage.”
The pilot didn’t test well, and “The Cage” never aired. Later, its footage was recycled as part of the two-part episode, “The Menagerie,” which recounts how Spock kidnaps his former captain, a crippled and bitter Pike (played in the new footage by Sean Kenney), and takes him to Talos IV to live out his life.
Was Mount concerned about stepping into a role that audiences had previously rejected?
“Well, first of all, thank god I didn’t know that, but I think a lot of people have assumed that — while having a tremendous sense of responsibility to the role — my greatest obstacle or my greatest challenge was to live up to what has already been laid down.
“In reality, if you think about it, not a whole lot was laid down — not a lot of material — and that was a different Pike and a different time of his life. That was a much younger, much more existentially in crisis young captain.
“This is Second Act Pike, and I just follow the writers’ cue. The writers want me to bring in somebody who’s a little bit more sure in his boots, deep into his experience, and so I really just follow what they were laying down, the proverbial trail of breadcrumbs, and I continue to follow their cue even now.”
Star Trek is known to have an extensive and engaged fandom. Over three years have passed since Mount arrived on the scene as Pike on Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 Episode 1 with his Number One, Una, played by Rebecca Romijn, enlisting the help of Michael Burnham to find Ethan Peck’s Spock.
What fan interactions stand out in Mount’s memory in that time?
“I have to lead with the most obvious answer, which is [seeing] this fan movement make the show happen. It’s changed my life. It goes beyond just another job – albeit at a very particularly bad time for actors – but my inclusion in this universe has fleshed out my love of Trek.
“It’s brought me into the family, the culture of Trek, not just the fandom of Trek. It has given me the wherewithal to entrust my ability to have a family. It’s given me a lot. And I am very grateful for it.
“Also, meeting members of NASA and seeing how the show has inspired so many people. Meeting legacy actors like Nichelle Nichols, Bill, and – I don’t know, man, – I struggle with words to get across to people how completely fucking weird this is, that I am the captain of the Enterprise.
“Can you imagine? It’s bizarre. There are only so many times you can say, ‘Why me?’ before you just have to shrug your shoulders and go, ‘Okay, I guess it is me.’
“But it doesn’t stop being surreal, and I hope that feeling continues throughout the entire thing because it comes with a tremendous sense of – not just luck – but responsibility.”
Shaping a character like Pike serves not only the narrative but the energy of the show. What has driven Mount’s development as the captain?
“It’s several things. On the level of the show, what we wanted to do was reinvigorate that sense of excitement that people got with the original series, even to just turn on the TV.
“It wasn’t just about where would the Enterprise end up; it was, ‘Where will the Enterprise begin? What new planet are we going to be on?’ That’s why it’s called Strange New Worlds.
“For me, as the guy playing Pike, I wanted to delve further. We got to see him lead a crew that was not his own on Discovery, and now we get to see him lead his own crew.
“I really wanted to flesh out that tremendous sense of empathy I think he has, which goes hand-in-hand with humility. I think that’s partly what makes him such a good leader and captain.”
Aboard his own ship now, how does Mount see that empathy come out in Pike’s natural command style?
“Every time a crew member walks through the doors of his office, the most important thing in the room is not Pike; it’s not even necessarily the question. It’s the crew member.
“He has to care about them above and beyond his own sense of self. That’s why his existential crisis at the beginning of the series is not his own fear of death. It’s, ‘Can I continue to serve as a captain when I’m dealing with this? Am I going to be able to be responsible for hundreds of people who serve under me, dealing with this crisis?'”
Mount considers the aspect of Pike’s story integral to his growth.
“How do we, as people telling the story, find a way through? Not [to] ignore that, but find a way through that that leads to further development of the character.”
While Strange New Worlds is a return to the episodic style of pre-Discovery Trek series, there is what showrunner Akiva Goldsman terms “serialized emotion” that is evident in the tight-knit vibe among the crew and, to extrapolate logically, the cast.
What has been the key to team-building behind the scenes so that the crew feels cohesive on-screen?
“I’m lucky on both counts. I’m blessed with a cast full of professional adults with a shared great sense of humor. The greatest joy for me in going to work is getting to hang out with them. It’s hard to express how much fun we have doing the show.
“In terms of team-building, it’s a very real thing that needs to be paid attention to, especially when shooting in the time of COVID.
“I have to say that Rebecca has been the real leader in that regard. She has gone far and away beyond the expectations of a cast member and a leader to make sure that everybody is well and comfortable and having a good time.
“She is a marvelous hostess. She makes a mean mixed drink. We have a lot of fun together and her entire family – Jerry, her husband – has become close with us, as well as have her two daughters. So I’ve just been trying to keep up with her.”
Historically, Star Trek series can be counted upon to hold up a mirror to many aspects of our society. This has drawn criticism from some quarters. Mount has a circumspect perspective on the purpose of and messaging in Trek and television in general.
“I don’t think it’s our job to have a point of view. I think it’s our job to raise questions. I think a TV show at its best can – doesn’t have to – but it can serve as a metaphorical platform to discuss other stuff that’s going on right now.
“You don’t have a discussion if you’re preaching. There’s no way to have a discussion if you’re preaching. The best thing that we can do is to raise questions, look at things through a new facet, shed a different light on it.
“And then [we have to trust] that we’ve done enough work to make it as shiny and interesting an object as possible and that [the] sense of curiosity that leads us to the stars is in our audience, and [they] will want to think more about these things.
Being the captain of the Enterprise comes with some intrinsic perks. One of them is the right to make the iconic speech from which this series’s title is drawn. Mount was deeply invested in the opportunity to speak those words.
“I knew I wanted to do that speech. I knew it like I knew I wanted to eat.
“So I was very grateful when Henry and Akiva told me that I would be doing it.
Ortegas: Course, Captain? What’s the mission?
Pike: Our mission. We explore. We seek out new life and new civilizations. We boldly go where no one has gone before.
Uhura: Cool. Sir.
“I kind of did it on the fly on the set as a temp track for the editing process, but then I was like, you know what, I want to make sure I got this right. So they sent a bunch of equipment to my place in Connecticut. I’ve set up a sound studio in my basement.
“I was there recording while our tech guy was in New York, and our post-production crew was in Los Angeles. We’re all networked, and we’re slogging this out.
“We’re doing many, many takes. We’re combining a sentence from this take, a sentence from that take, making sure everything is sounding the way we want, doing several versions, coming back to it, and this is back in October.
“There’s a moment where I said, ‘Guys, can we just take a moment here? And acknowledge the fact that we’re going to remember this moment for the rest of our lives? It is a very, very, very select group of people that has the privilege to work on this speech.’
“And everyone’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s really cool, that’s really cool.’
“Then there was a pause, and [something] occurred to me, and I said, ‘Of course, you realize right now, William Shatner’s in orbit.’
“A good lesson for me. Don’t ever try to outdo Shatner.”
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds streams on Paramount+, and new episodes drop every Thursday.
Take a moment, and check out the rest of our series of press day roundtable interviews, including the incredibly insightful discussion with the cast members portraying Enterprise’s brilliant young bridge crew, Celia Rose Gooding (Uhura), Christina Chong (La’an), and Melissa Navia (Ortegas).
TV Fanatic will be here with weekly episodic reviews and even a few EXCLUSIVE interviews later in the season!
Hit our comments with who you’d like to hear about next! Did the premiere ignite your engines? Are you ready to warp with this crew and captain to the edges of the galaxy?
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Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.