Star Trek: Discovery Interview: Ethan Peck Talks Spock, The Season 2 Finale, And Meeting The Younger Version Of Himself
This year, Ethan Peck made his Star Trek: Discovery debut as Spock, Michael Burnham’s (Sonequa Martin-Green) foster brother and a character who longtime Trekkies first came to know and love in Star Trek: The Original Series. Earlier this week, we got the chance to speak to Peck about playing a character who’s so beloved by Trek fans, working with Martin-Green, and his thoughts about the eventful Discovery Season 2 finale. Keep reading to find out his thoughts, and while you’re at it check out our (equally as insightful) interview with Martin-Green.
Spoiler warning: Spoilers for the Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 finale below.
Several actors—Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto, most notably—have played Spock on screen. What was your strategy for playing a character who’s so well-known and who’s been played by others before you?
Ethan Peck: The first step was to reduce panic and terror, which was sort of successful. I think every day I was living in some world of not fear, but terror, of being able to complete this challenge that had been laid before me. Secondly, I dove into watching The Original Series and seeing what Leonard Nimoy as an actor did with Mr. Spock. And then seeing who Mr. Spock was and, you know, sort of understanding what he did and internalising that. I read I Am Not Spock and then I Am Spock, which repeats much of the same as I Am Not Spock. It was really just kind gathering all the information I could and ruminating on it…I kind of liked to prepare my lines with The Original Series running just to be reminded of the musicality of Spock. And at a certain point I kind of stopped doing that because I felt that I had found a centre of Spock within myself. That happened a couple to a few months into the process of filming.
I was also lucky enough that I got to play Spock in this developmental stage of his life where he’s really becoming the Spock we get to know in The Original Series…I had the privilege of playing him through this cycle, and he changes so much. So in the beginning he’s written not as Spock from The Original Series but from some permutation prior. I also had the gift of getting to know him as the writers did and it was just sort of a confluence of really beneficial pieces.
On a similar note, it was really cool for fans to get to see Spock in a new role—that of someone’s sibling. What characteristics do you think that brought out in him that we maybe hadn’t seen before?
I think it brings out in him somebody that is not totally certain of what the answer is. I think Spock’s classically been the guy that’s like, “well nobody else knows, but Spock will.” His level of certainty is so powerful because of his trust in his own abilities—because of his trust in his Vulcan side and his human side, which combines to create such a special character. And I think when we see him with Burnham…I myself have an older sister, from whom I’ve learned so much, and at a certain point you begin to integrate and make a part of yourself those voices that help you in your life. So I think at the beginning we see him and he hasn’t done that yet. He’s still uncertain and still wavering between these parts of himself without really combining them, without really integrating them into his core, into who he is. We see him incomplete in the beginning and he becomes more and more complete as we move on.
Through your own performance, is there anything that you wanted to communicate in terms of what made young Spock the Spock we already knew—the Spock played by Leonard Nimoy or Zachary Quinto?
I think that was mostly done in the writing. But absolutely, there were themes that I wanted to communicate. When I think of Spock I think of wisdom, and I think wisdom comes from experience, it comes from pain. This is a period of great pain for him, and I like that that’s essential to who he is. I think we got that across.
You have quite a few emotional scenes with Sonequa Martin-Green in the Season 2 finale. Was there anything out of the ordinary that you did to prepare for those scenes?
No, I don’t think so. I mean in a way, the entire season, not just for Spock but for me as an actor, was preparation for those final scenes. As he was written in a way that is more like how he behaves at the beginning of The Original Series, I had more comfort in doing it. Spock is such a delicate balance of emotion and logic, of internalization and observation. So throughout the season I feel like I prepared for those last moments. And I had the gift of being surrounded by such an incredible cast and crew. Everybody brought so much to their work on every level, from prosthetics and costumes and sets and photography, cinematography.
So I felt like I had been primed for the moment, which I think is kind of his most complex of the season. Because I think you really get to see him deal with this deep, intense emotion and still hold on to his Vulcan self. I think when we understand that we have these inner pieces of ourselves that aren’t quite fitting together yet, which I think is part of the process of maturity, is understanding how to fit these pieces of ourselves together and make space for all of them, be present for all of them. I think this moment in the shuttle and the goodbye is the first time you see all the pieces starting to fit together, in my opinion.
Did you have any conversations with the director and the writers about how to portray, on screen, the fact that those pieces are coming together? Or is that a process you worked through internally?
Mostly the latter. Definitely conversations were had in the beginning, when I first started working, but it wasn’t necessarily with regards to that finale scene. I think at that point they trusted me—and I trusted me. There were a couple of moments before the goodbye in the shuttle where we see glimpses of Spock, which I think was always the goal and the intention because he’s in this developmental stage of his life. But I think everything just sort of came together and I’ve been working hard all along the way as everybody else has, and it just kind of happened.
Is there a particular message or feeling you want fans to walk away with after watching the Season 2 finale?
That’s a good question. My first instinct was no, but I think if there’s anything to be taken away it’s that life is so much more nuanced than we want to believe that it is. And sometimes pain is necessary. And life goes on beyond great adversity. And moments that we think will kill us, won’t. And logic can bring us forward.
They don’t want to say goodbye to one another, Spock and Michael Burnham, but logically it makes the most sense for those around them. Ultimately they’re serving something bigger than themselves, and I think that’s consistent with who they are which are these sort of heroic, noble characters that see something larger than themselves. I think it’s beautiful.
To start wrapping up on a bit of a lighter note, did you get the chance to work with Liam Hughes, the actor who played little Spock? If so, what was that collaboration like?
I didn’t get to work with him, I guess across from him, but we did work on a same day and I did spend some time with him. It was crazy, I mean…this was only my second episode, so I was still filled with terror about screwing this up. And he was just so lovely and distracting from that. Also, how cool to see the younger version of yourself in any way, shape or form. I never had that in my own life—obviously there are photographs of me [from] when I’m younger, but to literally spend time with the little being that had come before was very surreal and very fun.
This is probably going to be difficult to answer based on how much preparation you did before taking on the role, but do you have a favourite Spock moment, quote, or storyline from the Star Trek canon?
The two-parter “The Menagerie” from the first season, I think it’s Episodes 5 and 6 or something…that was really a cornerstone for me in terms of Spock because there’s the emotion involved and intense logic and strategy involved. And I think that when those two elements are at their highest is when we see Spock at his most quintessential.
Watch the Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 finale below.