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Tawny Newsome Delves Into What Makes Star Trek: Lower Decks So Special - Exclusive Interview

"Star Trek: Lower Decks" is unlike anything else to come out of the franchise so far. Whereas other "Star Trek" properties have been deep, serious discussions into the inner workings of society, "Lower Decks" dares to be sillier. There's still plenty of social commentary, but it's found in between jokes concerning evil holograms on the Holodeck. And at the center of seemingly every misadventure that takes place on the U.S.S. Cerritos is Beckett Mariner, as voiced by Tawny Newsome. 

Beckett is a bit of a rebel when it comes to ensigns on board the ship. She has no qualms about getting thrown in the brig, and if anything, she seems to actively enjoy it. Her rebellious nature only puts her further at odds with the captain of the ship, who just so happens to be her mother. 

It's an engaging character and someone different to follow aboard adventures throughout the "Star Trek" universe, and Tawny Newsome brings her to life so well. Looper recently had the chance to speak exclusively with the actress to talk all things "Star Trek," including what fans can expect out of the new Blu-ray and DVD sets of "Star Trek: Lower Decks" Season 2, set to come out on July 12.

On the upcoming Blu-Ray release of Lower Decks Season 2

To start, do you mind talking about some of your favorite movies of all time?

Let's see ... there's a weird one. I really love "Jumpin' Jack Flash" with Whoopi Goldberg. Oh, my gosh. That is why I got into comedy, her performance in that. It doesn't completely hold up. It flopped at the time, and [in] the first scene, there's some language we shouldn't have used then, and probably and definitely don't use now. But in terms of a comedic physical performance from a Black woman who wasn't in some sort of hardship role — for that era in the eighties, [it was a] seminal performance for me, iconic for me.

On the drama side, I got to say "Aliens." Sigourney Weaver has informed a lot of my acting choices [with] her role in that. Although I primarily do comedy, anytime I got to be tough, I'm definitely channeling a Sigourney Weaver from "Aliens," for sure. Another weird one: I really liked "Contact." Not "First Contact," but "Contact" with Jodie Foster — wild, weird space content. I like a lot of space stuff and comedies about weird people who work in a bank but get contacted by MI6 agents.

The Blu-ray and DVD for "Lower Decks" Season 2 comes out on July 12. What kind of bonus content can people expect?

We did some commentaries, which was fun because we got to do them together in a little group. I did a commentary for Episode 7 with one of our writers, Garrick Bernard, who's also a great Trekkie and a great actor, so [he's] a super fun person to talk "Trek" with. Then [there's] my good buddy, Paul Scheer, who I've known for years now, doing comedy podcast stuff. I love doing commentary with both people who love "Trek" and podcasters because it feels like a hang. It felt like we could sit around and talk all day. That was really fun.

Were there any outtakes or scenes you were super excited about that didn't end up making the cut?

It's not so much like live-action where I have a memory of filming something that I'm [like], "Oh, shoot. That didn't make it." For animation, it's pretty tight. When I go to record, I got it down to a pretty good science, and I kind of know what's going to "air." 

There are definitely takes of lines and bits and ad-libs that couldn't have made it [because of] time that I'm sure I miss. But the truth is, no matter how outlandish or ridiculous I think an ad-lib is, the chances of Mike McMahan using it are high. My favorite example is from Season 1. We're sitting there by the ... I think it's by the Yosemite shuttle. It's a little aside where Tendi's going, "Okay, number one: Starfleet's biggest badasses — who do we name?" People are going on and on about Khan versus this person, whatever.

Then, we're talking about Roga Danar, who was this throwaway character. In the booth, the written line was, "Oh, Roga Danar. Come on, you have to be kidding me," or "Get out of here" or whatever. I ripped a bunch of profanity-laden ones, resulting in me saying, "Roga Danar, get the f*** out of my face."

They used that and bleeped it. I was [like], "What is this show?" My mind is blown that that was the take.

The future of Star Trek: Lower Decks

What are you most excited for people to see in Season 3?

In the first episode of Season 3, we're going to learn a little bit about Boimler's heritage. There is a silly throwaway joke that actually tells us about his upbringing and about ... I say "throwaway" joke, but it's not a throwaway joke. It's a small reframing of how we think about Boimler's character that I love so much. It made me laugh on the page; it made me laugh hearing it. I hope people are as tickled by it as I am. It gives real insight into his life.

We're also going to get — maybe — some legacy characters that people are excited about. I'm always excited when we get a little legacy cameo. Those are always super fun. It's like a "Bring Your Legacy Actor to Work Day"-type thing.

I had the chance to speak with Mike McMahan, and he mentioned that Jonathan Frakes, who plays Riker, was a lot of fun to have with recording a bunch of stuff for the show. Have you had a chance to meet him?

Yes. I finally got to meet him because for Season 1, he recorded all his stuff separately from us, and I didn't get to meet him at all. But now I can say that we are friends, which I never thought I'd be able to say in my life. I have his phone number. 16-year-old me is freaking out that Jonathan Frakes and I can text each other in broken Darmok English. It's the best. He's the most fun dude. He did say, at one point, that I might know the canon better than him. That freaked me out. I was [like], "That is not true and should not be true." Legally, that shouldn't be true.

What do you think the odds are for a "Lower Decks" movie?

Oh, I would die. I would love it. I'm pushing for it hard. I would love to do it either animated or live-action. But it would be such a cool opportunity to see us in live-action, and a low-stakes way to do a weird, one-off movie. I'll keep pushing that any chance I can get to whoever will listen.

On the prematurely canceled Space Force

"Space Force" sadly got canceled after its second season. Was there anything you were hoping for your character, had it got picked up for a third?

We were pretty prepared for that. We all felt lucky that we got a Season 2, given [how] the world was and given how difficult it was to film. We filmed Season 1 pre-pandemic, and then we filmed Season 2 right in the middle of it, when things were really uncertain. We were relieved that we got to do it at all. But I would've liked to see Angela find more fun and levity. I would love to see Angela get a little bit closer to Mariner because that's my personality. I'm much closer to Mariner than I am to Angela. I would've loved to have that come out on screen more, have her not have the weight of the world on her so much, have her doing some bits and jokes and jabs.

What was it like working with Steve Carell and John Malkovich?

They're the best. They're like the most sweet bosses-slash-uncles you could ever ask for. They're so kind. John Malkovich is a wonderfully strange but kind man, who ... I like the fact that if I text John Malkovich, he suggests we get on the phone and have a phone call. While most millennials ... most of us will say, "Ew, a phone call, that's a crime, please don't do that to me," you've never had a phone call until you have one with John Malkovich, especially one where you weren't expecting it. You thought you were sending a quick text, and then he responds, "Why don't I call you?" And you're, "Whoa, what am I in for here?" Because the answer is: some wildness for sure.

Her time on Chicago Fire

One of your first credits was an appearance on "Chicago Fire." I'm curious; even though it was a small role, do you have any memories of your time on that set?

I played Jen, and I died. I had one line, and then you saw me on a stretcher. That was a time in Chicago where the only television they saw fit to produce in that town was very ambulance-centric. If you wanted to be an actor in Chicago, you had to either be a paramedic, a cop, or a dead body. I'm proud to say I did it all and then realized I had to move to [Los Angeles] if I wanted to keep working in television. 

I don't remember that much about it. I didn't even understand things like standing on your mark or "Don't look down the barrel of a camera." I'm sure I was an idiot, and that director was, "It's okay. You only have one line, and then you're going to be a dead body. I'll help you through this."

What would be your dream role?

My dream role would be Mariner in live-action. 100%.

To get to inhabit a Starship in a physical way, to get to touch all the buttons and push all the sliders, and to get to be as delightfully unhinged and energetic as she is, but still with such a big heart, so much comedy, and so much nerdy sci-fi stuff ... That would be the dream.

Can you talk about some non-"Star Trek" projects you have coming up?

Yes. Let's see — right now, I wrapped Season 2 of "Physical" on Apple TV, starring Rose Byrne and Rory Scovel. That's airing now. You can see Episodes 1 through 4, maybe, right now. That's airing weekly on Apple TV. That was really fun. That's set in the '80s in San Diego, and it's about a fitness instructor with an eating disorder. I play this other mom at her school. That was a totally different vibe than both "Space Force" and "Lower Decks," for instance. It's on Earth, so that was nice to be on Earth for once. I guess "Space Force" was on Earth. But to not be talking about space was a nice change.

I'm filming a movie right now. The movie's been announced, but I don't know if I've been announced in it, so I don't know if I'm supposed to say. But I did a little bit on that here in LA, and then I'm going to go out of town for that. That's always fun to work out of town. And [I'm] looking for the next thing, but those are my main things right now.

"Star Trek: Lower Decks" arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on July 12 with over an hour of bonus features, including exclusive featurettes, animatics, and Easter eggs.

This interview was edited for clarity.