Sonequa Martin-Green as Captain Michael Burnham in Star Trek Discovery


The cast of Star Trek Discovery

Fill 1
Fill 1
February 28, 2024
Online Originals

Sonequa Martin-Green on Star Trek: Discovery's Original Pitch and Working With Michelle Yeoh (Exclusive) 

The actor takes us behind the scenes of the Paramount+ show's early days and reflects on some of its major plot twists.

Phil Pirrello

"I never sat in the chair until it came time for my character to."

The chair Sonequa Martin-Green speaks of is the captain's chair on the bridge of the titular starship from Star Trek: Discovery, where the actor plays the intrepid Captain of that vessel, Michael Burnham. Her character's journey to the center seat will be coming to a blockbuster-sized end with the start of Discovery's fifth and final season, which premieres April 4 on Paramount+.

The new season finds Burnham and her crew boldly going on a treasure hunt of sorts in the 32nd Century, on a mission to find a mysterious device with ties to a derelict Romulan scout ship from Star Trek's past — a device that could have drastic consequences for Michael and the Federation's future. It's the past that Martin-Green reflected on in this first part of a recent exclusive interview with the Television Academy, in which she looked back on the last five years of her time with Discovery and unpacked the prequel series' origins leading up to its premiere in 2017 on CBS and Paramount's then-fledgling streaming service. Which is not where the show was originally intended to air.

"When it was first pitched to me, I was told the plan was for it to be on the network," Martin-Green recalls. "And then that changed and it went to streaming." Co-created by Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman, with the latter serving as Star Trek TV's version of Marvel's Kevin Feige, the series' original pitch and Fuller's pilot script placed more emphasis on the early days of the Klingon-Federation War, a formative conflict in Star Trek mythos that remained largely unexplored across Trek's various TV series until Discovery made it a central focus of its first season.

"I know that it was difficult for a lot of people who loved the franchise to see us at war, because that was fairly new for us to spend the bulk of [a first season] at war," explains Martin-Green. "And it was also really difficult for audiences to see the protagonist be integral in that war as well. But I just remember saying a lot of times in the very beginning, when we were still wobbly on our feet, that it's not that we're dark. It's not that we no longer have hope at the center of our story. It's that we remember what happened, and what's happening is intense. So you're going to see us actually deal with it. You're going to see us having to fight for this future in a way that you haven't seen before."

Martin-Green also knew, from the jump, that Michael's character arc would take her from untested science specialist to the captain's chair.

"That was something that I couldn't share, obviously," the actor says with regard to doing press for the series premiere, which at times proved difficult to find new ways to avoid or dance around the subject. "And even speaking about it in the cultural context, what it means for the Black community specifically, I know a lot of folks were like, 'Yeah, but you're not the captain'. And I understood that. I understood that point of view. And I thought: 'I know it seems that way, it seems like a slight. But it's not. We're going to earn it. And you're going to be able to watch.'"

What Discovery also earned was both its trip to the Mirror Universe — an ultra-violent, almost hedonistic alternate version of the proper Star Trek reality — and the reveal that Discovery's then-captain, Lorca (Jason Issacs), was a citizen of that universe hiding out in and posing as a member of our own.

"We all knew going in that was the deal," reveals Martin-Green. "That Lorca wasn't who he claims to be, that was in the original pitch. But it was pretty fascinating to go on that journey with the audience. Because, of course, the audience did not know. And so we were able to have lots of spirited discussions about it because people had mixed feelings about it. A lot of people shared with me that: They didn't like all this violence at the start. This isn't the tone of the [Trek] we know. This isn't our vibe. But the reveal was that Lorca was our connection to the Mirror Universe — that eventually gave them a great sense of joy that they were happy about."

Martin-Green experienced some joy herself when shooting the show's first scene featuring Michael and Captain Philippa Georgiou (played by future Oscar-winner Michelle Yeoh), another character with ties to the Mirror Universe with whom Michael would develop a complicated but compelling bond. The Georgiou that Michael and viewers first interact with is from the Prime timeline. Later, she would be replaced by her Mirror Universe doppelganger.

"I remember it was such a joy shooting our first scene together, out in the Jordan desert. I don't remember if I knew at the top of the season that [character switch] was going to happen. I did know that Prime Georgiou was going to be leaving. But I knew before we shot it. I knew before we got into the bulk of the episode that it was going to happen. But working with Michelle, she's as brilliant as she is graceful. We've been lucky, very blessed, to have so many brilliant artists join our family."

The crew of Discovery found themselves lucky as well when Michael was promoted to captain toward the end of the third season. While Martin-Green knew this deserved promotion was long in the works for her character, she did not know when in the series' run it would happen. Which may account for why the actor never indulged in test-driving the captain's chair on set before her character could.

"I wasn't really tempted by it or anything," Martin-Green says of waiting until the narrative required her and Michael to take the conn. "I just remember thinking: 'When it's Michael's turn, it's my turn. And that's when I'll take the seat, when she does.' It wasn't lost on me how important a moment that was for the character, for me, as the actor, and for the story and Star Trek as a whole. So I wanted to experience it when Michael did, and I am very happy and satisfied that I did."

Star Trek: Discovery's final season streams April 4 on Paramount+. Check back at closer to the premiere for the second half of our exclusive interview with Sonequa Martin-Green.

Browser Requirements
The sites look and perform best when using a modern browser.

We suggest you use the latest version of any of these browsers:


Visiting the site with Internet Explorer or other browsers may not provide the best viewing experience.

Close Window