Star Trek: Strange New Worlds' Bruce Horak Opens Up About Hemmer's Sacrifice In "All Those Who Wander"

[Spoilers follow for today's new episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, "All Those Who Wander."] Star Trek: Strange New Worlds today released the penultimate episode of its first season, "All Those Who Wander," on Paramount+. The episode was a work of claustrophobic spaceship-bound horror, and the USS Enterprise crew did not get away without casualties. In addition to losing a few minor characters introduced in this episode, Enterprise's chief engineer Hemmer, the Aenar played by Bruce Horak, sacrificed himself rather than allow a new brood of Gorn to emerge and threaten his crewmates. That heroic act is Horak's last in the role. had the opportunity to speak to Horak about filming Hemmer's death scene, what Hemmer's arc means to him and the possibility of him returning to Star Trek in a new role. That conversation (lightly edited for flow and clarity) follows.

109 – All Those Who Wander
(Photo: Marni Grossman/Paramount+)

I assume you knew the number of episodes you were going to be in when you signed up but did you know how this was going to end for Hemmer? When did you find out that he would be killed off?

Bruce Horak: Well, I knew right off the bat, actually. In one of the first Zoom auditions, Henry Alonso Myers told me the character arc and what they had planned for him. So yeah, I knew right off the top. I had no idea what the details were going to be, what episode 109 was going to look like, until a week before we started shooting and we got the final drafts, so it was a very pleasant surprise.

When you did get that draft and see how he would go, with this big sacrifice -- with the winds reminding him of Andoria, all that good stuff -- what was your reaction? How did it feel reading how this was all going to end for this character you've been playing for however many weeks or months?

Well, I think my initial reaction was sadness that it was actually happening. Then I went into denial because I thought, "There's absolutely no way that they're going to shoot this thing." And then, honestly, there was a great deal of relief because, from the moment I put the red shirt on, I knew I was going to go. And I just really wanted it to be cool. "Please, guys, please just make it cool." And Davy Perez just, I think, knocked it out of the park. Not only is it a cool death, but it's got a heroic moment to it, it's got heart to it, and I hope anyway, that it's a memorable one that leaves some people feeling like, "No, it can't be." And hopefully, there're as many people in denial and rage about it as I am.

What was the atmosphere like on set? I know that Star Trek casts have a reputation for getting very close, very fast. What was the mood?

It was pretty sad. The whole tone of that particular episode was set by Chris Byrne, who's the director, who I think did an extraordinary job. He got the feeling of, basically, space horror movie right from the get-go. Oftentimes, actually, he would, as we were setting up to shoot a scene and he'd be adjusting the Dutch on the camera, and getting more smoke and fog and more flashing lights, right before he would yell, "Action," he'd go, "Space horror, action. Space horror" to get us all into that vibe.

And on the day that we shot the final goodbye, I think we still had the Gorn statue that had just been smashed and there was ice everywhere. Christina [Chong] and I are in the cargo bay, and the rest of the cast are in the hallway behind the door, and it was just this feeling of, it felt really immediate and real, and the stakes of it; you're about to erupt with Gorn and possibly going to be responsible for killing the crew, so get to it. And there was really a sense of that urgency and that terror that, hopefully anyway, just leaks onto the screen.

But specifically around the farewell, and the farewell to Celia and the farewell to Spock and everyone that's in the hallway, just a moment to reflect and actually have an honest goodbye. It felt like a real gift. I was relieved and heartbroken and I think that the denial is real. I probably won't get over my denial until the episode actually drops on Thursday. It's like, there must be another edit where Hemmer jumps out and then he flies away. There must be an edit, right, guys?

You've talked about how you're in a little bit of denial about having to say goodbye. But we've seen actors come back as new characters, especially ones that are covered in prosthetic makeup. On Discovery, we've seen Sarah Mitch and Kenneth Mitchell. Jeffrey Combs played like a billion characters on the older Star Trek shows. Do you think there's a chance you'll be back, maybe in a different role? Or are you just keeping your fingers crossed at this point?

Wouldn't it be hilarious if I pulled my mask off and I was actually Jeffrey Combs under here? [Laughs] I was Jeffrey Combs the whole time. 

I can officially say that the Star Trek career of Bruce Horak is not over. My agent is thrilled, as am I.

I talked to you at the beginning of the season, and you talked about the importance of his relationship with Uhura and that kind of thing. When watching serialized stories, I always feel like the ending really makes you go back and reassess what the whole story was about in the first place, so I'm wondering from your point of view, given that this is the end of Hemmer's arc, did it make you reassess what his whole story has been about?

That's a really good point actually because I obviously was sitting on it for a year and we got the cast screeners a little while ago, so I got to watch all the episodes chronologically and, exactly that, reassess the arc. I see him as softening over the series and becoming a member of the family. He's sort of the estranged, strange relative who appears and is grumpy and doesn't seem to want to participate. And then by the end, he's really a member of the family.

And I love, especially episode 108, as we see him go from the confused character, and then he's playing along with Dr. M'Benga in the hallway scene, especially where he pulls out the communicator and is having a good time and his humor coming out. And I absolutely adore that about his arc. We see he's very professional, he's very good at his job, he's got these extraordinary powers, but he's also welcomed into the family and has an important part to play in that.

And I think, again, it goes back to the Roddenberry vision of a place for everyone. What a wonderful thing to see. Here's an Aenar. He's like one of 1,000 that are left in the known universe. And even for these outsiders who are notoriously reclusive and myths in the Enterprise story, that there he is, he's a member of the crew.

And not only that, but he's willing to die for them. What a wonderful notion that all of us have it within ourselves to, maybe we're not all heroes, but we all have the ability to perform a heroic act.

Did you get to keep any souvenirs or anything from your time as Hemmer?

Well, funny you should ask. I happen to have some of his antennae. These were given to me by the prosthetics department, who were probably closer to me than, well, anyone -- I was going to make some crass joke about who might be closer to me -- but yeah, we spent a long time together, so this feels like a real trophy from the set. I don't think anybody else would want it because I sweated in this thing for about 18 hours. And I put them on my Chewbacca doll, just to really cross the streams. That's going in a place of honor, for sure.

You played Hemmer through these nine episodes. Is there any single scene, or a single moment, single line even -- I know for me, the "I knew you were going to say that" line will stick with me -- that's the first thing you think of when you think about Hemmer? Is there something that stands out to you as the quintessential moment for this character?

Oh, there are so many. The one that just leaps to mind for me right now is the moment with Uhura in the cargo bay where she's asking what his purpose is, and it's "to fix what is broken." And then she gives him a little nod towards his teaching, and he smiles. I really connected with that moment.

My father was a teacher, and I have dabbled in teaching myself, running workshops, et cetera. I've always struggled with it, per se. I find when I get into that situation, I end up learning more than I feel like I've taught. And in that moment with Celia in the cargo bay, and when she called me a teacher when she gave a nod for being a good teacher, I was like, "Oh, that actually made me feel a little chuffed."

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is streaming now on Paramount+.