Shazad Latif must have whiplash at this point. The actor joined Star Trek: Discovery, cast as Kol. Then, suddenly, he was no longer Kol, but rather Lt. Ash Tyler. However, as the publicity machine ramped up last year and the show’s actors chatted about their respective characters, Latif revealed barely anything about Tyler. Now, of course, we all understand why. Latif was not only portraying Tyler, but also the Klingon, Voq, and not just Voq, but Voq as Tyler, and also Mirror Voq, whom fans finally met in “The Wolf Inside.” StarTrek.com spoke the other day with Latif, who seemed relieved and sounded excited to at long last lift the lid on his character(s), the Discovery experience so far, and things to come as season one warps toward its conclusion. WARNING: Spoilers ahead if you’ve still not watched “The Wolf Inside”…
Fans were playing guessing games about the Tyler-Voq connection. Plus, you were originally cast as Kol. How big a kick did you get out of sitting back and hearing/seeing all the theories?
It's kind of fun. The main thing is I was focusing on trying act these two roles at the same time, so I didn’t really see much of that going on. But it was fun to know it was going on and to know that people were interested and passionate about it.
You spent a full year living with these secrets. We met you at various red-carpet events and heard you speak during the Comic-Con panels. You could barely say anything. How hard was that?
It was like having a muzzle on.
Whom did you confide in along the way?
I confided in my girlfriend, my mother, my brother, my agent. They were the only people that I could say these things to, but it was nice because it created a nice energy around what we're doing on set, even if people guessed it right. It's more about how we executed it, how we played it out. But it was very hard to keep the secret. I felt like Matt Damon in The Good Shepherd.
How much of a relief is it now that the cat's out of the bag and you can finally talk about it?
I can't stop talking about it now. I do these interviews now and it's just all coming out. It's nice to be able to talk about the characters, and about the acting … There's a lot of freedom.
Let's break some of that down. You've actually been playing Tyler, Voq, the Tyler-Voq combo, and also Mirror Voq.
Basically, four characters.
Right. How massive an acting challenge has it been?
You lock yourself in a room for the whole weekend. You start with trying to learn the basics, learning your lines, and then you try to figure out the journeys, the basic questions: who, what, when, where, why? And then different arcs, and trying to connect each one, connecting Tyler and Voq, making sure Mirror Voq has a relation to both of those, and voice-wise through the characters. I was trying to get the essence of them, and the sense of where they are in the story. It's mad fun, this is. It can drive you crazy, but it's something I enjoy doing.
What are your thoughts as to where Voq's thoughts and memories are at the moment? And are they gone for good, or are they retrievable?
I think they’re retrievable. It's all coming in and out of waves. He'll always be there. You're going to see some of that in the next three episodes, what happens with that. They deal with all of that issue, because he and Voq both, in time, need to come to a head, you know? Something's got to give, basically.
How intensive was the makeup?
It's not nice getting up at 3 in the morning and doing all that stuff — contacts lenses in the eyes, which hurt, and feeling claustrophobic, and sweating profusely for like 12 hours. It's horrible, horrible stuff. But I will say, mask work is very freeing, because there's no trace of me. I don't feel like me underneath. I'm doing a different language. I feel completely free. You feel like you're hidden. It's like when you're a kid and you put sunglasses on; it's that kind of same feeling.
Were there any days where you did Voq in the morning and Tyler in the afternoon?
There was a pickup where we had to do some torture scenes. That was the only time that ever happened, because otherwise it's too much. But that day with both, we had to fit it in, and that was quite funny. It was just three hours and then ripping it all up, literally tearing off the Voq face and then going to do Tyler and getting tortured. That was fun.
How about the voices, because you've got Tyler, Voq, and Mirror-Voq all going on?
Well, one, you've first got to try and nail the American accent as best you can. Most actors always know that one because we watched Hollywood movies from age five or whatever. But then Voq is another language. That's a whole other thing, just getting the Arabic-sounding person, and the Spanish rolling r's and all that kind of stuff, making sure that all of that works. It’s fun to get into another language, and that hides you more. And then Mirror Voq is the scariest because you want to make sure it doesn't sound weird. Klingons speaking English can be very risky. My voice was sort of based on a First Nations-like tribal leader and just getting evidence of that in there. Being in Canada, it felt right. I also wanted to make sure it related to Tyler and Voq's voices, so that it wasn't completely new or random.
How are Sonequa Martin-Green and Mary Chieffo as scene partners?
They are fantastic. We all have this nice camaraderie on set. We all just feel very… It's very emotional when we all do those intense scenes, and we take a lot of care with them. It's very sensitive and tender. Even if it's a crazy scene where we're pointing a gun in the other’s face, there's still an element of softness. We always wanted that. Also, with both Sonequa and Mary, Tyler always seems to be cradled either in their bosom or he's the weak one suffering and these strong female characters surround him.
It's always such a nice feeling to do that. It's quite rare for that to be in a show, where the guy is just not this classic action hero. Just letting go with Sonequa and Mary is great because they're such giving partners and we can just listen and hear each other. It’s been a beautiful experience, actually.
You shot very different scenes with Mary and Sonequa. How night and day were those scenes to shoot, or is intimacy intimacy in its own weird way?
Intimacy is exactly that, yeah, intimacy. There's different things you can do. Sometimes in the sex scenes, you have to be very sensitive to what everyone's doing and just hear people. It's all very strange, and weird, and fun.
What was it like that day on set when you filmed the scene in which Tyler kills Dr. Culber?
That was incredibly tough. That was a very sad one. It was the first time me and Wilson sort of got to work together properly. And, med bay scenes, there's always someone suffering or in pain. There's a very vulnerable tension in med bay scenes, and Wilson (Cruz) and me, it was very sad because we had this one great scene and then that was it, I snap his neck in the next scene. It was very strange to kill someone, to say goodbye to them in this weird way. I kept hugging him.
You also acted quite a bit with this guy named Shazad Latif. What was that like, to act with yourself?
That was very strange. I did the Voq scenes on the first day. We had two really intense days in that tent, and I did the Voq scenes first. The stand-in, who is a brilliant actor in his own right, he would learn my movements and we'd spend a day working each other. Tyler didn't really have many lines in that scene. It was easy to just watch, learn that, and then the next day he could do the same, and then I would fight the stunt version of Voq, which was a separate guy. It was wild. I mean, I'll never experience that again, fighting yourself.
Without giving too much away, in what direction are things heading for Tyler and Voq, and is there any hope for the Tyler/Burnham relationship?
I think there is. I think there's always time for love. I mean, who knows? Who knows? Everything's going to come to a head. There's a four-way thing going on because Voq and L'Rell have their own love story. Tyler has got to plead his case for killing Culber. There's so many things about to happen. Voq's got to try and contact L'Rell. And that's all in the last few episodes, so it's going to be pretty intense.
Switching gears, we’ve been particularly impressed with Discovery’s diversity, on screen and behind the camera. As an actor of color yourself, what's that meant to you?
This, for me, is normal. This is how I see the world when I walk out every day. This is just my view of it, so Star Trek's very, very, very important to me in that sense, because they see it how I see it. We just need other shows and movies to do it, too, or to do more of it. We need more behind-the-scenes people — the directors, producers, people with the money – involved in making it happen. It needs to trickle down from them. It's a good thing for everyone if that happens. It is a slow process, and it will happen, but it takes time. It just takes time.
Right now, between Discovery and The Commuter, you're on a hit show and in a hit movie, plus you came to Discovery pretty much right from the very cool Penny Dreadful. How satisfying a time is this in your career?
It's very good. There’s a lot of positive energy right now. The roles are very different. I've got a film (called Profile) that's premiering at Berlin, which is directed by Timur Bekmambetov. He did Wanted with Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman and James McAvoy. It's an indie movie he's doing, and it's at the Berlin Film Festival there, the world premiere. I'll be playing someone completely different in that. So, yeah, it's a good time. It's a good time.