Christina Chong knew little about Star Trek before being cast in Paramount+'s Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. It wasn't part of her childhood in the United Kingdom, growing up as the daughter of a Chinese immigrant and his English wife. Now she's part of the Star Trek family, her character the legacy of Khan Noonien-Singh, one of Star Trek's most iconic villains. Chong plays La'an Noonien-Singh, the USS Enterprise's Chief Security Officer, in Strange New Worlds. While most of the Enterprise crew grew up in the full promise of the United Federation of Planet's utopian future, La'an has a different history. She grew up aboard a colony ship that became the target of a Gorn raid, its inhabitants brought to a breeding planet for consumption. La'an was the only survivor, found by the Una and the crew of the USS Martin Luther King Jr.
With Strange New Worlds nearing the halfway point of its first season, ComicBook.com had the opportunity to speak to Chong about bringing this unique character to life in the Star Trek universe, how Star Trek values match her own, and how Strange New Worlds' second season will be even more epic than the first (we also touched on her cut Star Wars: The Force Awakens role). You can see what she had to say below:
What was your history with Star Trek before being cast in Strange New Worlds? Were you a fan or was this all new to you?
Christina Chong: My experience was pretty much non-existent before, other than being aware of how huge it is. I don't ever recall watching a full episode or even an episode at all. It was on the TV, in the background, I remember here and there, which is kind of a good thing I think because I do love a challenge. I loved all the research and getting to learn all about it and the Star Trek jargon and everything, and getting to watch Disco, Season Two in particular, TOS, Wrath of Khan. All of these things. And I think if I had known, and if I had been a fan of the show beforehand, I think it would have colored my performance in a way that would've been hindering because there's so much pressure. And it would've been a bit daunting, I think, to do something which I held in such high regard. I mean, obviously, I do appreciate it now, and I am a fan of the show and of Star Trek now because I understand, but I think it worked in the best way possible for me.
Obviously, one of the big things about your character is she's descended from Khan Noonien-Singh, who's this big iconic villain. At what point did you know that about the character? And given that you weren't that familiar with the universe, what was your reaction? Was it apparent immediately, or more like, "Oh no, Khan. Who's Khan?"
Yeah, it was that if I'm honest, but I didn't find out until I landed in Toronto. You take these jobs off of a few pages of dialogue. And obviously knowing it was a huge loved franchise was obviously a massive help. But the character itself, I didn't know much about until I landed and we were in quarantine for two weeks, so we had Zoom meetings with Akiva [Goldsman] and Henry [Alonso Myers] and they gave me my whole character arc and story throughout the season. They were the ones who conveyed how amazing and important it was, the Khan storyline and the Gorn storyline, and they got me excited about it. Then I obviously went and did my own research, and to have such great things to work off of and to play underneath everything else that's going on is a big gift, I think. There's always something going on in her head.
Given that you didn't know about that connection to Khan and all that, how was this character of La'an presented to you at first? Was it just, "She's the badass security officer?"
Exactly that, yeah. I think the blurb was something like, "She's a chief security officer and she has PTSD," and I think that was it because obviously, they didn't want to give anything away or that it was Star Trek or anything like that. And I worked off of that, and to be honest, I just played a version of me under the circumstances of the script and was very lucky that it was the direction that they wanted to go in.
You've been in some other really big sci-fi shows. You've been in Black Mirror, you had a very cool role on Doctor Who. How does your experience so far with Star Trek, compare to some of those other big sci-fi projects from your past?
In a way, there's almost no comparison because, although obviously Doctor Who is incredible and Black Mirror also, this is just another level. It's a whole epic franchise and the show itself is epic and there's so much history to it. With Doctor Who, it is just a fact that the UK is smaller and therefore we don't have as much money to put into our productions and TV because we don't have as many people paying for it. American TV by default has the opportunity to bring so much more epicness to it. The sets even, they're bigger, there's more detail, though I really loved being a part of Doctor Who, even though it was only one episode. I loved working with Matt [Smith] and Karen [Gillan] and everyone. And Black Mirror also. It was great, but it's a different thing in and of itself. There's no comparison with Star Trek.
It's clear that La'an has a very close relationship with Una. Can you tell me a bit about how you and Rebecca Romijn developed the right chemistry to bring that to life?
Well, it was a slow build obviously because we couldn't meet up outside of work because we were still quarantine. In Toronto, it was a hard lockdown when we arrived, so it was kind of slowly, bit by bit, but a lot of it's in the script, and luckily we just clicked. The first time I met Rebecca was in the makeup trailer and we just clicked instantly, which was super helpful. But she is to La'an a big sister figure, and in a way, that's how it is in real life.
She's had a lot of experience, Rebecca, and done way more than I have. If there's something I need to know or learn about, not just Star Trek, but life, she's there. She's very open and supportive and she'll talk about anything. It was a bit of art imitating life. But also, it was there in the script. We didn't need to create that. We naturally had that chemistry and all we had to do was say the words and bring our own inner life to it.
Your bio talks about how you're the child of a Chinese immigrant who came to the United Kingdom from Hong Kong, and how Star Treks' messages of equality and diversity resonated with you. Can you talk about that about how, as an actor, you connect with that through La'an? Or maybe it's more compartmentalized, given how fantastical Star Trek can be?
No, I 100% do connect, and it's been something that I've learned naturally through the show and through conversations about the show with the writers. That's been one of the great gifts of it is that it aligns with everything that I believe in. As an actor, especially if you're a new actor, it can seem like you are competing a lot of the time for roles, and I struggled with that for quite a few years. Obviously, it's a separatist point of view, right? It's me versus them. And I'd see my peers getting the roles that I felt like perhaps I should get. And then I was like, "I can't live like this. This is eating me up." I can't deal with the rejection and that somebody else gets the roles and things.
Over the years, because of my struggles in my childhood and whatever I've been through in my life, I've done a lot of personal development work. One of the things that I realized through doing that was that we are all essentially the same thing.
I love studying quantum mechanics and I'm a believer in the law of attraction and those kinds of things. We are all essentially made up of quarks, and therefore, if we're all made up of the same thing, there's a part of me in you and part of you in me. And I was like, "Yeah, okay." So then if there's a part of me in that girl who just got the role that I auditioned for, I should be celebrating because part of me got that role. And then I took it a step further, treating people how you would like to be treated, because actually those people are you and you are them, more or less, evolved or developed in different areas.
But essentially at the core, we are all the same. That's a view that I've had for a while now. And when I got this job, I was like, "Oh gosh, yes." The whole equality, inclusion, diversity thing is that message, essentially. If you boil it down, that's what it is. That is how you could explain to an alien species essentially everything in this universe is made up of little quarks. I had more of a connection to Star Trek than I thought I did.
Can you tell me at all about what kind of arc La'an is going to go through throughout the rest of the season? And were there any particular challenges as an actor that you found in portraying that arc? Something that you hadn't done before, or that you were glad to get to try?
Episode eight is a bit of an anomaly and you'll see why when you watch it. That one I was really excited to do because it allowed me to play a part that I never even thought I'd get to play and a side of La'an that is very surprising, so that was very exciting. And other than that, her main journey through this season is about facing her fears, ultimately facing them dead on, her trauma, everything she's been through. And she literally does face it head-on.
Pike says it in episode one, there's surviving and then there's living. That's La'an's arc, figuring that out. How do I not just survive? How do I let go of what happened to me and my promise and just fully live?
Can you offer any update on where you guys are with Strange New Worlds' second season? And is there anything else you'd like to say to fans before we close this out?
We are almost done with season two. We've got a couple more episodes to do, and what I will say is that if you loved season one, the writers got the license to just take it even further and even more epic. So it takes it to a whole new level of exciting fun, and I've had a lot of fun this season.
And a message to the fans: thank you, because ultimately, we aren't here without you. There've been so many lovely comments and things, and I haven't been able to reply to them all, but I do read them all when I can. Thank you for the support, because I can't believe still that I'm in a show that is just so successful and loved. So thank you.
New episodes of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds debut weekly on Thursdays on Paramount+0comments