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‘Star Trek: Discovery’: Rainn Wilson on Bringing New Life to A 50-Year Old Character and Bracing for ‘Haters’

As Harry Mudd, Wilson's character questions the ethical underpinnings of the Federation — and he knows that "25 percent of 'Star Trek' fans are gonna hate it."

Star Trek Discovery Rainn Wilson Harry Mudd

CBS All Access

“Star Trek: Discovery” guest star Rainn Wilson couldn’t resist. Like many other actors immersed in their favorite sci-fi franchises, Wilson gave in to his inner geek while filming scenes on the new CBS All Access series. And yes, that meant making noises with his mouth while shooting a phaser gun.

“Of course, I did,” he told IndieWire with a laugh. “‘Pew, pew!’ Your inner kid comes out. I mean, how outrageous is this, that I get paid money to go play one of my favorite characters from one of my favorite TV shows and run around with a phaser? It’s preposterously lucky what I get to do for a living.”

It’s an attitude echoed by other members of the cast and producers, who for months have spoken with glee about getting to be a part of a franchise they grew up loving. And for Wilson, his guest star role as “Discovery’s” version of Harry Mudd (a character who originated on “The Original Series”) was “a blast to play.”

Mudd, as introduced 50 years ago by “TOS,” was a notorious con artist who loved manipulating Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise during his three guest appearances. But Wilson’s take on the character — first introduced in the fifth episode of “Discovery,” “Choose Your Pain,” and continued in this Sunday’s episode — is a bit different.

“I loved what Roger Carmel did with the character, ” Wilson said. “I was a big fan of him originally, and he brought a wonderful sense of play and a larger-than-life drama and humor. But he also had a mean streak and he was mercurial, and so I kind of took all of that stuff that he had been playing and took it to my own version.

“This is the modern world and he needed to be a little darker and a little more insidious… It was clear the writers loved writing for him because the dialogue they wrote for him was just so great.”

Star Trek Discovery Rainn Wilson Harry Mudd

Some of that dialogue is especially notable for how it directly questions the ethical underpinnings of the Federation as we’ve theoretically known it to operate. “That’s an interesting turn that the show is taking, and it’s really looking at when do you follow rules and when do you break the rules,” he said.

That’s an approach that might not lead to universal approval, but after nine seasons of “The Office,” Wilson seems to have developed a relatively zen approach to fan reactions. “There’s haters everywhere, and it’s such an interesting thing with ‘Star Trek’ because no matter what they did, there’s just gonna be… 25 percent of Star Trek fans are gonna hate it. It doesn’t matter. I mean, if you had just all A-list actors doing the same kind of episodes, it doesn’t matter what. There’s gonna be haters.”

Added Wilson, “Early on in ‘The Office’ I read every review and every online comment I could find in Season 1 and early in Season 2, and then I was just like, okay, this is nuts. I gotta stop this. And so, I’ve really let that go. Even my Twitter feed is just filled with some of the most vile, angry people you’d ever want to meet, but generally the exciting thing about this is people have given [‘Discovery’] a chance. It’s different.”

Appearing on “Discovery” meant that Wilson got to go to work on some truly impressive sets: “They have made a ‘Star Trek’ city there in Canada. It’s like six sound stages filled with prison ships and Klingon vessels and Starfleet academies and all kinds of stuff.”

In “Choose Your Pain,” Wilson was trapped in a Klingon prison cell for the duration of the episode, but as teased in the promo for next week, the episode “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” will feature him making his way to the starship Discovery itself.

Wilson hasn’t seen the episode yet, though, because he’s been waiting to watch it with his 13-year-old son, whom he says loves the show. “In classic ‘Star Trek’ tradition, it’s fun for the whole family, to sit on the couch and watch it together. That’s what my family did for years, the original series in the early ’70s. It was appointment television, even though it was in syndicated reruns. I’m waiting for the time to get him to start plowing through the episodes.”

What’s next for Mudd, especially given that “Discovery” has just been renewed for a second season? Well, Wilson’s initial answer is not to be trusted. “I have been told that in Season 2, Harry Mudd is gonna be made captain of the Discovery and I’m gonna be in every episode… Shoot. I wasn’t supposed to say anything about it. Oh, darn it. I just spilled the beans,” he joked.

The actual truth? “I haven’t been told. I mean, I would love to be back… The fans so far, from what I’ve seen — I snuck onto the Reddit ‘Star Trek’ page, and it seemed like 85 percent great reviews of Harry Mudd, so I would love to be back. I had a blast. The cast, everyone’s so fun to work with on the show. I really had a great time.”

New episodes of “Star Trek: Discovery” stream at 8:30 p.m. ET on Sundays on CBS All Access.

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