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‘Star Trek: Discovery’: Jason Isaacs Apologizes for Lying, Admits to Feeling Like a ‘Drunken Hippo’ When Fighting Michelle Yeoh

The CBS All Access series has delivered massive surprises each week, and the "Harry Potter" star had to deceive everyone to keep this one under wraps.

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CBS All Access

[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for “Star Trek: Discovery” Season 1 Episode 13, “What’s Past is Prologue.”]

Jason Isaacs seemed relatively cheerful when IndieWire got him on the phone to discuss “What’s Past is Prologue,” the latest episode of “Star Trek: Discovery.” But this was how he began the conversation: “Lucky me. I’m talking about my death and me leaving a fantastic, successful, popular show. What could be better?”

Because, lest you were preparing for another classic “Trek” fakeout, Isaacs felt fairly comfortable saying that while death can be a flexible thing in science fiction television, “Right now I’m going to say [Lorca’s] pretty dead. Dead as a doornail. That’s not a bruise. I’m incinerated, particle by particle. It will take a lot of jigsaw puzzle fans to put me back together again.”

We want to believe Isaacs, though he did say that he needed to apologize for months of lying. After all, the star known for his work in properties like “Harry Potter,” “Awake,” and “The OA” came to work on “Discovery” knowing full well that his character, Captain Gabriel Lorca, had been secretly, all this time, a fugitive who’d fled the brutal Mirror Universe to infiltrate the Federation “Star Trek” fans hold dear.

“I’ve done nothing but lie since September,” he said to IndieWire. “I knew, perfectly well, everything before we started. And that meant that every interview was a lie and every conversation I had with my friends… Actually, with quite a lot of my family, was a lie. Anybody on the street was a lie. Anybody in Toronto. So I apologize for all that, but that was the only way to tell the story well.”

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That meant that yes, Isaacs knew from the beginning that Lorca was from the Mirror Universe, and that he had a plan for returning there eventually. “I needed to know not just where I was from, but what my plan was for getting back, and what my plan was gonna be when I got there,” he said.

While Isaacs said he’d been lying a lot to those in his life about Lorca’s true nature, he did also admit that he let it slip to many of his fellow actors by accident. “Many of the other cast didn’t know and I let it slip at one point when we were all hanging out together,” he said. “It was one of those very social jobs where we all hung out an awful lot together, and hung out behind the set instead of going back to our trailers, as well. And I mentioned it. And I think it was really upsetting to a couple of people. A, that they knew the story. It was going to affect the acting. And B, we were all getting to know and like each other the way that you do, and I was clearly going to be gone and not part of the social fabric of it, and… Yeah, it was a big mistake. I shouldn’t have told them.”

When it came to shooting Lorca’s final battle, Isaacs was candid about what exactly it means to do a fight scene with co-star Michelle Yeoh, who first broke out as an international star in the 1980s and ’90s after appearing in a number of Hong Kong action films (and doing her own stunts).

“If you know you’re doing a big fight with Michelle Yeoh, that’s about as good as it gets,” Isaacs said. “That’s like dueting on stage with Stevie Wonder or something. However, when you start rehearsing things, you realize why she’s Michelle Yeoh. She can move 20 times quicker than my eye can focus, and I’m meant to look like I’m keeping up with her. So I’m begging her to slow down all the time.”

In addition, that fight training means that “[Yeoh] can make the lightest contact in the world and make it look like she’s hammering you. Me … I’m actually grabbing her arms and banging into her and bruising her terribly. So I’m feeling like a clumsy, drunken hippo fighting her, but I’m still getting to do a fight scene with Michelle Yeoh, which is great.”

Isaacs also noted that “Sonequa [Martin-Green] is a surprise. I’d never seen her do action before, and… One of the many reasons they chose her for ‘Star Trek’ is she moves like a warrior. The girl has such clean, focused shots. Fabulous moves.”

While Lorca’s situation in Season 1 is pretty well set, Isaacs said that “Season 2 is not scheduled. They’re writing it now. So who knows what they’ll come up with? If they come up with something that’s great for me, and I’m interested in doing it and they’re interested in it, then I’ll always have discussions, because I liked everybody so much and I had such a good time.”

That said, Isaacs didn’t take the role of Lorca because he was interested in a long-term gig, but because of the role itself. And if another version of Lorca (perhaps the Prime Universe version?) were to be revealed, he’s not sure it would be as meaty. “I took it because it was a great acting part, and it was a great acting part, partly, because you had these fabulous secrets and you had two or three things going on in every moment. And I don’t know that Prime Lorca would be as interesting a guy.”

Though, there is a philosophical angle to the question, as Isaacs observed:  “There probably isn’t that much that separates anybody from the Mirror version of themselves. It’s just a question of how tolerant you are and how selfish you are and how open-minded you are. That’s the Mirror world we painted.”

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It speaks to his general approach towards creating characters who might not be considered all that likable, as he’s done for decades. “As someone who’s played a lot of antagonists, [what I’ve learned] is that everybody always thinks that they’re right. Racists, eugenicists, homophobes, misogynists… They think they’re right. They think other people have an unrealistic and sentimental view of the world and they’re the only people that see the truth, and Lorca is a guy who thinks this is the way this universe needs to be run. There was a time when it was better,” he said. “I think what happens is there’s a recognizable human being in there, and within those confines you can also have friends and you can have anomalies and contradictions and you can be sensitive to other people’s feelings.”

In the end, even if Isaacs never comes back to “Star Trek,” he’s happy that the secret of Lorca’s true nature managed to be maintained, because “that’s the fun in telling a story.”

Plus, it addressed a complaint that’d been circulating around the character of Lorca from the beginning, albeit in an unexpected way. “I like the fact that so many of the ‘Trek’ fans I respect enormously were complaining that he really was not Federation material,” he said. “And, guess what? They were right. But for the wrong reasons.”

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

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