Rekha Sharma, over the past 15 years, has appeared in everything from The Outer Limits, Dark Angel, The Twilight Zone, John Doe, Smallville and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem to Battlestar Galactica, Supernatural, V, Arrow, Tasmanian Devils and The 100. It seemed as if she were just waiting to appear on a Star Trek series, and she finally got her chance with the advent of Discovery. Sharma played the tough, doomed Commander Ellen Landry in the episodes “Context Is for Kings” and “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry.” StarTrek.com recently chatted with the actress about her many genre credits, her Discovery experience and an interesting, sci-fi convention-centric episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation that she appeared in a decade ago. Here’s what she had to say:
So, with all your previous genre credits, was it only a matter of time before you worked on a Star Trek show?
You know what? You're probably right. When you lay it all out like that, it is a lot of sci-fi. I'm thrilled to be on Star Trek. Star Trek is about as huge as it gets in the genre. I’m very honored to add it to my list of credits.
Are you a genre fan? Has that been where the work is, or maybe it's a bit of both?
It is definitely where the work sort of went for me, and yet one of my earliest experiences of the genre was TOS when I was a little girl. My big brother introduced me to it and I loved it. I came home and ate milk and cookies and watched TOS every day.
How did you land Landry, so to speak, on Discovery?
Landry? How did I Landry? (Laughs) I auditioned on tape and l literally got the call two days later that I was to pack my bags and get on a plane in 48 hours. It was very fast. It was very exciting when I read through the sides and saw what a tough character she was. She was actually written as… I believe it was Fred Smith. She was written as a man, originally. I was intimidated. I definitely was, but I worked hard and I guess my work paid off.
Was there a part of you, knowing that Discovery’s main character is a female named Michael, that thought, "Maybe they should keep Fred, instead of turning it to Ellen?"
I didn't even think of that, honestly. Didn't even occur to me.
She was a hard-ass to Burnham, and Lorca seemed to respect her. What backstory did you create?
Certainly, it was a lot about her position in this world, being in charge, essentially protecting everybody on the ship and, given the time, the fact that we’ve just started a war with the Klingons. I thought a lot about how many people she had lost, how many people died in various places, and the fact that Burnham, as far as we all know, is the person responsible for all those people dying, including Georgiou. I thought about that and what that meant for me. Then, with Lorca, I definitely thought a lot about the fact that he is one of the most amazing leaders in war. My Starfleet training was not… We’re not war machines. We have a different mandate, but Lorca was about wining wars and he took it very seriously. I think I learned a lot from him. He was my role model. I took my cues from him, and I think that's why she became so tough and so strong. He respected that.
There also seemed to be some heat between Landry and Lorca. I think fans assumed they either had a past or maybe a present. What’s your take?
I think it's OK to say that it was actually in the script, and it ended up getting cut: We were sleeping together.
Wow. Shot and cut, or not even shot?
It wasn't even shot. It got cut before we even shot it. There was just a lot of revision and things had to get tightened up. It was a short scene, anyway, and I think they decided they didn't need it. The fact that the audience picked up on it felt as good. We got the message across without that scene.
Tell us about sharing scenes with Sonequa Martin-Green and Jason Isaacs…
I loved working with them. They had different processes. Jason is very in the moment, working it all out right in front of you, which is wonderful and exciting to watch. He's so much more experienced than myself, and I loved watching and learning from him. Sonequa… First of all, I love that woman so much and I'm grateful I got to meet her and work with her. For me as a colored woman, watching a colored woman be number one on the call sheet and how she conducts herself with such grace, professionalism, heart and goodness, and then, to boot, she's just a wonderful actress — I could watch her all day — was so inspiring and exciting. She's both a friend and an inspiration.
Speaking of friends, we saw a photo you posted of you with much of the DSC cast and crew, that looks like it was taken at a picnic.
That's exactly what it was. It was a Sunday afternoon barbecue with the cast and crew, and it was just wonderful.
How often have you died on screen before, and what was it like to shoot Landry's death scene?
I hate dying, and I've done too much of it. Yeah, that's probably a good, a short answer. I don't know what else I can say, except for…
Well, take us through the process of shooting her death.
It was a lot about prosthetics, quite honestly, because she gets shredded, (or) "ripped" I should say, by Ripper. We had to do some serious prosthetics stuff. I was literally head to toe, I had a whole body thing on to create all those cuts, and then all the stuff on my face. It is really frightening, for me anyways, to open your eyes and look at yourself in the mirror looking bloody and gashed. It's crazy to think things like that can happen to people. I don't know how much we actually see of what I did, but on the day, I remember I did my coverage of me screaming and freaking out on the ground, imagining the Tardigrade ripping me to shreds. Then the stunt double did the same thing, and I was behind the monitors with our wonderful director. I was watching the stuntwoman and I was like, "Holy smokes, she's really going for it." He turned to me and said, "Rekha, she's just trying to impersonate what you did, which was even more intense." I was like, "Oh, I looked like that? That's freaky."
What was the Ripper? Was it a guy in a green screen suit?
Yeah, it was. For that part, there was nothing. I just used my imagination. There was this wonderful man in a green unitard jumping around the room, and the things he could do with his body, just to create that feeling, were so impressive.
Dead never means dead in sci-fi, and in Trek we've got things like katra and there's obviously something as simple as flashbacks. How hopeful are you that we’ve not seen the last of Landry?
Well, you know how much I like Star Trek, so of course I'm hopeful. You have to keep watching. It's kind of more exciting to die in the genre, because there's so many people on Twitter and Instagram coming up with all these wonderful, creative ideas because they know the show so deeply. They're trying to figure out ways for Landry to come back. Yes, they're sad and disappointed she's dead, but they're having a great time.
IMDb lists something Traces as an upcoming project. What is it and what do you play?
I play Pablo Schreiber's wife. It's his movie, a story about a man who has become disenchanted with his career as an artist and lost his way. I played his wife and it was absolutely a wonderful to work with him. A dear friend, Matthew Currie Holmes, wrote a beautiful script. I don't know if it’ll see the light of day. I really hope it does.
What's next for you?
Another independent film – In Heaven’s Hands — which has a wonderful script, and I'm really excited about it. It's set in Pakistan, and I play an Indian person. I think I’ll actually get to work with an accent, and speak another language. The story itself is beautiful, about brothers and politics, and it’s another story about losing your way and finding your way back.