Discovery's Sonequa Martin-Green on Bringing Her Star Trek Legacy to Video Games

Michael Burnham and her new best friends, Abe Lincoln and a lava rock man.
Michael Burnham and her new best friends, Abe Lincoln and a lava rock man.
Image: Perfect World/Cryptic Studios

As Star Trek: Discovery’s Michael Burnham, Sonequa Martin-Green has spent the past few years helping to carve out a new step in Star Trek’s long televisual legacy. Now, it’s time for another part of that long legacy to embrace her: by catapulting Michael into the world of Star Trek Online, to rub digital shoulders with some of the franchise’s best and brightest.

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Martin-Green joins some of her fellow Discovery crewmates in making the jump to Star Trek Online. In the last few years, Mary Wiseman, Anthony Rapp, Rekha Sharma, and Jason Isaacs have all gone from CBS’ soundstages to the digital Alpha Quadrant as characters in Perfect World and Cryptic Studio’s free-to-play MMORPG. But Martin-Green is doing so for a very special occasion: This year, Star Trek Online is celebrating its 10th anniversary of bringing players its very own vision of Star Trek’s 25th-century future. To mark the occasion, we caught up with Martin-Green over the phone to talk about how she approached bringing Michael to a new kind of life, and what it means to be on the vanguard of defining the latest generation of Star Trek for fans.

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io9: This is the first time you’re appearing in a video game, but obviously, you’ve been playing Michael for two—now three—seasons of Star Trek: Discovery. What was that experience like for you, coming into this new medium with Michael Burnham?

Sonequa Martin-Green: What do I tell you? Actually, I’ve had a little bit of experience just before having the pleasure of doing this—I did some work for the Fast & Furious video game [Crossroads, due out this year]...time flies. I think it was a couple of years ago now. Over a year, for sure. I’m still very much a novice in the video game world. This was like, my second time? Still, it was such a brand-new experience for me. And I love your question, because there was something very special about adventuring into a new medium with Michael Burnham. I was so honored to even be approached about it. And also, just happy it exists! So, being able to see the animation and being able to, sort of, join with some of the legends of this franchise was a really big deal. I wouldn’t be able to be in the same arena with these people otherwise, right? So, it was a lovely trip in my imagination.

io9: One of the things that makes your performance as Michael stand out on the show is there’s a very defined physicality and authority in the way you project that character. I was interested to see that coming into this, where you’re relying on your voice to instill her character, was it a challenge?

Martin-Green: Oh, it actually...it wasn’t a challenge. Well, I guess I should say it was challenging in a different way. Because having the life of this character be displayed in every part of me, seeing my voice, seeing my body, that affords a certain experience and a certain freedom. But having to sort of put everything I have in just my voice? It was very interesting. And that’s what I mean when I say “challenging in a different way.” I love the way my physicality is portrayed in the video game. I saw that from just the sort of pre-visuals I was sent, which are not done by any means, but gave me ideas of what the scenes are going to be looking like. But even in that preliminary animation, I thought it was absolutely wonderful.

There’s something to be said about the journey you go on when all you do have is your voice. And especially when you’re matching with something that has already been created before you. Acting is collaborative as it is, but it’s a new kind of collaboration—because you have people who are contributing a little bit more to you in a direct way, if that makes sense. They’re deciding how you’re going to move through the space, so that’s already done for you. You take your voice and you try to launch off of what has already been created for you. And I do that already, with the script, right? The words they’ve already given to me. But, you know, it just took me to the next level when the words are created for you and the physicality as well.

I thought it was a lot of fun. And it was a very collaborative experience—and they were very open to that collaboration and they were very open to, like, “Hey listen, if something doesn’t feel right—if it’s something you know a lot more than we do, let us know.” And [Micheal was] so well-written, that only happened a few times. There’s always a little adjustment here and there, but other than that, they have the spirit and the heartbeat of her.

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io9: You are not the first Discovery actor to come aboard Star Trek: Online in recent years. Did you turn to any of them for tips?

Martin-Green: You know, I actually didn’t. We talked about a lot of the things they did in the room, in the studio. We talked about a couple of techniques that they found and used while I was there, and that was very helpful to hear. But no, for the most part, I sort of just...embarked on the journey with what I had. I felt very prepared, actually. I felt prepared, I felt comfortable, I felt welcomed. That had a lot to do with the awesome creative team. I was emboldened. And, you know, “I can do this! This’ll be great!” So, I didn’t necessarily feel the need to reach out. I definitely felt like I was ready.

Legacy brings with it the chance to unite both classic Star Trek icons and newer, albeit familiar, faces.
Legacy brings with it the chance to unite both classic Star Trek icons and newer, albeit familiar, faces.
Image: Perfect World/Cryptic Studios
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io9: This Legacy story content is a coming together of different parts of Star Trek—there’s almost a time travel aspect to it—and the game brings Michael in from this very specific point in her journey, just before the climax of the second season...for you as an actor, what was it like trying to get back into this very specific emotional headspace after filming season three?

Martin-Green: That is a great question as well, because this is something that I’ve had to do quite a bit as Michael Burnham—and a lot of us had to do — because there are lots of reasons why you have to go back and return to something before, right? Just even logistically speaking. There are reshoots. We have to do ADR a lot of times as well after we shot scenes, where needed. So, I was familiar with that process, of having to go back into the past and relive it again, as if they were happening in the present. And like I was saying a moment ago, because of the way they wrote up the story we know with new elements, as well. It did offer a new [take] on Michael. So...that’s also—that’s something is is quite affecting, being able to go back to the past that had these new elements to it. Because then it’s a brand new experience, even when you do go back into the past, it’s a brand new experience [again].

What we do [on Discovery] is so present, it lives in the present moment, right? But I really enjoyed it. Especially considering the things I wasn’t expecting. I thought, you know, “This is compelling! This is something new. Something different,” to sort of sink my teeth into and grab ahold of. So, I had a good time with that. It does take focus, and you gotta really dive in there. As always, you gotta suspend your disbelief, activate your imagination. You gotta dive into this stuff. Dive off of that cliff! So it was certainly worth it with that inner work, but that stuff? That’s the best thing. That’s the work you want to be doing, always. But yeah, it was very cool. Wish I could tell you why!

io9: You’re used to that with Star Trek at this point, aren’t you? The watchful sight of the CBS phaser is ever in the corner of your eye.

Martin-Green: Exactly, a phaser will drop out from the ceiling. [laughs]

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io9: This content has been launched for Star Trek: Online’s 10th anniversary. What was it like for you to be invited to participate as the sort of “face” of Discovery for this moment, and to have become the vanguard for this latest entry into the canon?

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Martin-Green: My goodness! What I have found over the last treasured three years is—as much as I’d like to express what it means to me, I don’t ever really fully communicate it. It’s just too big to communicate, really. I’ve tried so many times, in so many ways, to describe the impact it has had on me and how much it means to me to be and be “the face” of such a rich legacy. Knowing the impact. Knowing the reach. Knowing how it’s influenced people for generations. And I just...you know, I always walk away from whatever I’ve said at the moment and think “That’s not enough.” So I’ve started saying “It’s indescribable,” right? It lives in the unutterable. That’s the best way I can describe it.

So, knowing that there was a video game...I knew a good deal about it before I was in that studio. Technology has taken us to great places and gaming is such a big part of our culture now, and knowing that Star Trek, the legacy, is getting into people’s homes [that way] as well? It just...it’s glorious! I appreciate how all of the iterations [of Star Trek] are being melded together in this super world, if you will, for people to enjoy—it’s just so exciting. And I’m so happy about the anniversary, its success over the past decade, that was a big celebratory moment of this as well, realizing I was coming in this right at this time. But yes, I just love it. I love it! I think it’s just an exceptional thing—I want more and know there will be.

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And they’re continuing to push the boundaries, Cryptic Studios—they’ve got such, such, such phenomenal artists working and creating this content. And I am always impressed by the level of excellence you see across the board, that we’ve always seen. And they’re just taking it to the next level with the animation—even when they showed me the pre-visual stuff I was talking about earlier, they kept saying “Ohh, there’s so much that still needs to be done,” But it was incredible already! And I said, “That’s what the animation looks like now?! This is crazy.” [laughs] I truly feel we have some of the best minds in this industry working for Star Trek. I’m grateful.


Star Trek: Online’s 10th Anniversary story content, Legacy, is available now on both PC and Console iterations of the game.

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James is a News Editor at io9. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!

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DISCUSSION

amazingmeow
amazingmeow

The word I’m thinking of is “Polluted”, Sonequa Martin-Green polluted STO with her presence.

No offence to Sonequa Martin-Green, she’s an adequate actress. But Burnham is an absolutely shit character.

For some of us who absolutely hate the direction of Discovery, STO has been a sort of save space to continue the voyages of the classic Trek.... At least until they brought in Discovery content and polluted even that Trek legacy