Star Trek: Discovery leading lady First Officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) will serve on two ships with two captains: first the USS Shenzou under Captain Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) before joining the USS Discovery under Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs). Speaking with the official Star Trek website, Yeoh and Isaacs revealed how their characters differ:
"So, I know that she is a war veteran," Yeoh said. "She has seen the horrors of war because it comes out in the dialogue as well. But she is a very compassionate person. As I look into her, she, by heart, is an explorer. She loved the universe. She loved the ability and the possibility of seeing new stars, new novae being born. She's always awed by that. That's what I love about this character. She's not cynical. She's not jaded by all the things. She believes — and she firmly believes — in the hope and the goodness of humanity. It's very pure to play a character like that, to bring her to the fore, but she's also very smart. Otherwise, she would've been dead a long time ago. Space is quite a dangerous place."
Though Burnham first looked at Georgiou with disdain, Yeoh said, the adventurers would come to to share a close bond, with Georgiou going on to become mentor and mother figure to Burnham.
"She is definitely a mentor because when she came... even at the prelude you already know that they've been together for seven years," Yeoh shared. "She's obviously the one who's been teaching her, trying to guide her on the right path. But [Burnham's] background makes it so interesting because she's the only human. She forgot she was human because she was growing up in the Vulcan world. She was becoming more Vulcan than Vulcan itself. She beat herself up to even more than that. And it's brutal. I don't know how anybody can survive, unless you are a Vulcan, the kind of training you have to get through so that you are so in control and everything becomes about logic and clear cut and things like that."
A human brought in by Vulcans after her parents were killed by Klingons, Burnham was raised as the adopted sister of Spock by Vulcan ambassador Sarek (James Frain), who shares a history with the Captain. Georgiou helped form Burnham's nature, instilling a more emotional, human side to a soul who was raised as a Vulcan.
"Sarek, Spock's dad, is a dear friend of Captain Georgiou and he truly believed that Captain Georgiou would be able to instill the good human qualities back into her, because fundamentally she's a human being, right?" Yeoh said. "You cannot deny yourself what you are. So, it's not just about discovery into space and finding new friends and new cultures, species, but it's self-discovery. And, especially for Sonequa's character because when she comes, she is like, 'I am the Vulcan of the Vulcans, man.' Captain Georgiou's looking at her, 'Oh really? We'll see about that.' But it's not about breaking her spirit. She worked so hard to be who she was seven years ago. But it's about putting back, instilling... I don't want to break her spirit. I want to instill back, 'What is love? What is compassion? What is empathy?' Because, if you don't have that, you will make the wrong choices. Because the choices in your life define who are, right? So that was the bond that they had."
Isaacs, also speaking with StarTrek.com, said his wartime captain is more focused on the current conflict at hand than resolving things diplomatically.
"Remember, this is 10 years before the place that we get to when Kirk sets out the Prime Directive," Isaacs said. "The Federation hasn't evolved at that stage yet. This is a time of war and time of crisis. You need to deal with people firing at you before you can work out what songs you want to sing around the camp fire. He's the right guy to be in charge in a difficult time like that."
"He changes, and he changes the way that he is and who is and how he is and his relationship with people changes," Isaacs said of Lorca. "And I'm not sure that, like any well drawn character in narrative fiction, you can define him that easily. Or any character in real life."
When asked what interested him most about his character, Isaacs pointed to Lorca's unpredictability and depth of character:
"That aspect, the fact that I wasn't playing the same color over and over again, that there were hidden depths to this man, that he was going to react in surprising ways in different situations, that he had maybe other agendas at certain points with people that were... that they knew about themselves or they didn't know about themselves," Isaacs answered. "He's in denial about certain things. That he was recognizably human, and that it was a story born out of our times to tell of our times, these very troubling, dark times we live in, divisive times we live in. And that it wasn't trying to retread anything. I didn't feel like I was filling the gap between adverts. I felt like it was something that would hold your interest round a camp fire."
The biggest difference between the two captains are their relationships to the series' lead, Burnham, as Lorca is decidedly more emotionally distant than Georgiou.
"I have a relationship with everybody," Isaacs said. "[Burnham] has a relationship with everybody. The central relationships are hers with people. But he's more of a... He's not that guy. He keeps his cards most close to his chest, Lorca. He's a wartime leader, and too much fraternization, too much open vulnerability would not help people fight."
Isaacs would only tease the interaction between Lorca and Burnham, declining to answer whether or not the first officer looks up to her captain.
"I see great potential in her, and I have an interest in her, but that may be slightly, hopefully, interesting, enigmatic for people and wonder why there is," Isaacs said. "And while it's not hard to wonder what it is… You look at her, she's incredibly capable. She's an incredibly capable character. She's raised on Vulcan, and she gets a bit of a second chance under my wing. But, she's a charismatic person on and off camera, Sonequa, and so everyone is slightly drawn into her web as well."
Starring Sonequa Martin-Green, Michelle Yeoh, Jason Isaacs, Anthony Rapp, Shazad Latif, Mary Wiseman, James Frain and Doug Jones, Star Trek: Discovery releases to CBS All Access following a special broadcast premiere September 24 at 8:30/7:30 CT on CBS.