Mary Wiseman knows just how unusual Cadet Sylvia Tilly, the character she plays on “Star Trek: Discovery,” is to the “Star Trek” universe. “There are things about her that can maybe, to some people, feel like too much,” she told IndieWire. “Or she’s too nervous, or she doesn’t have that sort of gravitas and professionalism that other characters have.”
But she’s been genuinely pleased by the way people have embraced the ambitious yet jittery cadet, and the way “people have seen that character and felt seen by that character. They’ve kind of opened their arms to her, and it’s also opening their arms to me, which is a really beautiful, heartening experience.”
“Discovery” Season 2 isn’t set to premiere until early 2019, but for those who love Tilly, CBS All Access debuted a special treat on Thursday — the first in a series of short films (dubbed “Short Treks”) which will spotlight both new and existing characters from the most recent “Trek” series.
First up is “Runaway,” in which Tilly encounters a mysterious stranger who sneaks onto the Discovery, and whose problems mirror some of her own issues. Wiseman is the only series regular to appear in the 15 minute short, which was written by Jenny Lumet and Alex Kurtzman, and directed by Maja Vrvilo.
“I heard about it from Alex Kurtzman, and I was pretty flattered to be asked to do it, and excited for Tilly to kind of have a shot at a little situation where she has to deal with it by herself, without help,” Wiseman said. (That said, “it was weird” to be without her fellow castmates, though the crew and set were the same.)
Following the release of “Runaway,” three more films are set to debut over the next three months, with stories focused on the characters of Saru (Doug Jones), Harry Mudd (Rainn Wilson), and new character Craft (Aldis Hodge). Writers and directors for these installments include Wilson, Olatunde Osunsanmi, and Michael Chabon — the acclaimed novelist who, it was recently revealed, is in the writers’ room for the Jean-Luc Picard series in development.
While launching a series of short films in between seasons isn’t the standard way a TV show might operate, being an actor in the “Star Trek” universe, Wiseman noted, isn’t like other jobs. “To be part of something that’s so important to other people, it’s strange and it’s unmooring, and it’s deeply beautiful, and it’s the gift that keeps on giving,” she said. “I mean, I’m on a comic book. I’m in a video game. This is not real life.”
The video game, “Star Trek Online: Age of Discovery,” has a new update planned for Oct. 9, which will include the world of “Discovery” and feature Wiseman’s voice work as her own character (another new experience for her). She hasn’t been made into an action figure yet, but “give it time,” she said. “That’ll also be weird, and then I can give it to my niece, so she can play with it and remember me.”
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In Season 1, Wiseman got to explore many of Tilly’s quirks, but also was confronted by her alternate persona when the ship crossed over to the Mirror Universe for several episodes. And Wiseman said that more of that could be expected in the future.
“That’s such a ‘Star Trek’ thing, isn’t it? You’re never just one character,” she said, citing as one example the complicated history of Tasha Yar, a “Next Generation” character that led to actress Denise Crosby playing several different roles on the series.
“There’s a great legacy of characters not just playing themselves, but also having to dress up as other people, and or meet versions of themselves that are different. I didn’t know when I took the job that I would get to play so many different characters within one character,” she said. “It’s super exciting, it always keeps it fresh and new, you always have to keep your imagination going.”
That’s not the most important aspect of the job, though, as Wiseman explained. Instead, what she’s found to matter most about being a part of the universe is that “your work doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There’s this entire community, pre-established. Even before our show premiered, there was a group of people, a huge group of people, that was going to interact with it, and were going to take things away from it, and have opinions, and be part of it.”
As she continued, “You’re not just an actor in a story, you’re part of a story that’s like mythology, and in our culture, so that has been different. It’s cool, and it’s something I never could have imagined.”
“Runaway,” the first installment of “Short Treks,” is streaming now on CBS All Access.