To say Michael Burnham’s journey to be captain in season four of Star Trek: Discovery would be an understatement allowing star Sonequa Martin-Green to shine in so many ways. Marking Paramount+’s launch in the UK, the actress spoke with Total Film on her first season officially in the captain’s chair, Burnham’s growth, Tilly, and season five. “I wasn’t a Trekkie when we started. So, I had to dive into the deep end of the franchise and I loved it. I wanted to be a sponge and so I did that. I took to so many people, and I stand on a lot of shoulders – and I’m very well aware of that,” Martin-Green said. “Once I got into the actual story that was laid out before me, I was able to use that and let my imagination run free and go on the journey. You go with the flow, go with the ride. I have so much respect for the writers: the way Burnham has grown, the way Burnham has matured, the way she has settled into who she is as a woman, first and foremost. Then as a member of the Federation, in Starfleet, then now as captain, it’s huge for me.”
Martin-Green also found herself evolving multiple sides of her character. “It’s a little bit of both, right? There has been so much reinvention with our show season-to-season and with every character, that’s one of the things I love most about our iteration: we are all continuing to become who we are and you are watching it in real-time,” she said. “I am, as Burnham, so completely different than I was at the beginning. That’s exciting, challenging, and fulfilling as an actor. Then, at the same time, I know who I am as Burnham in my heart – but I’m also getting to change. There has been a great deal of change and maturation, and character development, a lot of falling forward. And I love how we’ve been able to see that I love being able to see that in practice as well, especially as a Black woman.”
As far as what Martin-Green decides is Burnham’s defining moment, “It’s important to see Black women be fallible, and be vulnerable, and make mistakes, and learn and grow from them. So often as Black women, we’re taught and conditioned to believe that there are no mistakes allowed. That just can’t be the case – because nothing teaches like failure,” she said. “I think, for Burnham, there was a journey towards the chair in Burnham’s mind from the very beginning. What I had to do over the course of the story was the ‘if you love something, set it free’ [mentality]. I set that dream of being captain-free somewhere around season two and then had to come back to it. But when I came back to it, it was all the more genuine and authentic. What you see in season four is that Burnham has to learn how to be a captain. And what does that mean? And how do I apply everything that I’ve learned? How do I apply all of these lessons and all of this wisdom? How do I lead from the middle out? How do I make people feel valued? So there’s a lot of growing that still is happening.”
One of the biggest surprising departures of season four is Mary Wiseman’s Tilly, who decided to become an instructor in the 32nd century Starfleet. “Thank you for acknowledging that moment and acknowledging Mary, she’s utterly brilliant. I loved that moment too, it’s one of my favourites. The Burnham/Tilly moments tend to be my favourites, those really special, quiet moments that characters have with each other – those just sing to me,” Martin-Green said. “[Co-showrunner] Alex Kurtzmann – he was quoting someone else – said, ‘Nobody remembers plot, they remember character’ and those end up being nearest and dearest to my heart too. I love how quiet it was and that it had a sweetness in the bittersweetness.” For more on Star Trek franchise commentary, and what Martin-Green can reveal about season five, you can check out the whole interview here.
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