The CBS All Access series teased the arrival of the iconic USS Enterprise in last year's game-changing finale, and when the anticipated sophomore installment kicks off Thursday, it will be the first time audiences meet one of its newest crew members, Anson Mount's Captain Christopher Pike. Though the character is classic (he precedes Captain James T. Kirk in Trek lore), we haven't spent significant time with Pike, outside of the rejected pilot for Star Trek, titled "The Cage," and an episode that did air, "The Menagerie."
For Mount, a self-proclaimed Trekkie who audiences may know from five seasons on AMC's TV Western, Hell on Wheels, or the 2002 Britney Spears film,Crossroads, getting the gig was the fulfillment of a boyhood dream. "It wasn't the usual, 'You got the job!' because I didn't know which role I was auditioning for. I knew it was for a captain, but I didn't know it was for Pike. As a Star Trek fan, it was sort of a double shock -- a good shock and a tremendous sense of responsibility," Mount told ET. "But yeah, it was surreal. It was surreal every day I walked on the set."
Mount credits his mom for hooking him onto the original Star Trek series when he was about seven or eight years old. "There were times where it was like...," the 45-year-old actor paused, trying to find the right words to express his emotions. "There are these moments that you'll have as an actor sometimes, in front of a large audience onstage, where suddenly your mind will go, I cannot believe what I'm doing right now. I cannot believe where I am. It was a little like that, but even more so. It was almost like you had been sitting in the audience for a really long time and somehow you get sucked into the screen and then you're standing in the starship in front of a Klingon with a phaser in your hand." Mount laughed at the absurdity of the statement. "Like, what just happened?"
Over the course of a 20-minute interview with ET, Mount spoke enthusiastically about his new role, sometimes struggling to find the words to accurately describe how significant the opportunity has been for his life and career. "I'm super excited," he marveled as the interview came to an end. "That's not just lip service." Ahead of Thursday's anticipated return of Star Trek: Discovery, Mount opened up about his approach to playing Pike, the quality he most admired and the first time he sat in the captain's chair.
ET: Captain Pike is a character we haven't spent much time with on screen. There's obviously Bruce Greenwood's performance in the recent Star Trek films, as well as Jeffrey Hunter and Sean Kenney's brief portrayals in the original TV series. Did you watch any of the previous performances? What was your approach?
Anson Mount: I went back and watched the episodes, "The Cage" and "The Menagerie," just to refresh myself. In terms of taking anything from Jeffrey Hunter, no. I think Jeffrey Hunter did a fine job and he was great. I got to meet his son, Chris, who was lovely, but I didn't see any point in regurgitating a performance that was already there. And it's a different Pike. My Pike is sandwiched between those two [episodes]. He comes after "The Cage" and before "The Menagerie." It was my job to come into a very weird situation, which was a role in which the first and third acts had already been established and I was supposed to play the second act. I don't know of any situation in which anybody's been asked to do that before, but it was fun as hell and it was great to play a character I admire.
When we first meet you in the premiere, you're hard to miss and you make an impact almost immediately. What interested you about your Pike that was on the page?
You said it. I don't think I had as much to do with it as the writers. It's wonderful material. The thing that I liked most about Pike, particularly for Discovery coming out of a situation with a captain they couldn't trust and coming out of a canon where the famous captain we know of, Kirk, is a swaggering lothario, it's great to play a captain who's equally effective but doesn't operate so much from a place of ego as a place of extreme conviction in the Starfleet code and curiosity of what's out there. He's almost egoless to a fault. If he had a superpower, it would be to turn his bridge crew into a larger brain. When he is in doubt, he has no problem saying, "I am completely lost. I have no idea what's going on and the best idea wins. Go!" There are all these scenes where you see that happen and you see that happen in the first episode. You see him turn that crew into a brain and I think it makes for great television.
It seems like you're having the time of your life. Is there a specific moment on set where you thought, this is insane.
There are several. (Laughs.) Sitting in the captain's chair for the first time on a day I wasn't even working. I was in civilian clothes and sitting in that chair was emotional. It was this weird [moment of] meeting my 8-year-old self again. And then shooting the last scene of the season, which I cannot tell you anything about... it was like trying to -- I don't know how to explain it -- it was like being in a movie, which I know I was... (Laughs.) But I don't know, it's like the screen came and swallowed me whole and suddenly I was in Star Trek. I was just... it was like... obviously words fail me. But every day. It's the longest amount of time doing any given job where it's remained surreal to me. And the sets are huge. We took up six sound stages, seven by the end, maybe even more. It was mammoth in its scope.
We're also going to meet several other key Star Trek characters, from Rebecca Romijn's Number One to Tig Notaro's Jet Reno... What was your experience like working alongside this cast?
It was a very welcoming group. They welcomed me with open arms immediately and were excited for me to be there and gave me as much respect as anyone who had already been there already. The entire crew and cast were very welcoming. My dog just recently passed and he was in a tough situation [at the time]. He had developed a degenerative myelopathy, so his back legs were going, and it was suddenly like having a baby. And they really went out of their way to help me figure that out and how to get him to and from daycare and make sure he was looked after while I was on set. It meant an enormous amount to me.
I know you can't say much, but when Rebecca comes into the picture, what is that interplay like between Pike and Number One?
I can't say really anything. I can tell you it was wonderful working with Rebecca Romijn. She is one of the most immediately disarming people I've ever met in my life. We immediately bonded over our dogs. [There's a] funny story she tells about her husband, Jerry [O'Connell], who I got to meet at the end. He came and visited us while we were shooting the last episode. Tig, you know... Tig. (Laughs.) She really is that funny. I was like, How in the hell did they come up with the idea for Tig Notaro to be in Star Trek?! Turns out, I don't know if you knew this, she and [executive producer] Alex [Kurtzman] were interns together for Sam Raimi when they were in their 20s. I know, right? I want to be a fly on the wall back then to hear what they were saying. (Laughs.) But I've been a fan of hers for a long time.
Ethan Peck's impending arrival as young Spock has been months in the making. What can you say you about how Spock is incorporated into the mix?
I can say [Ethan] really took the role very, very seriously and he did his research. He read Leonard Nimoy's biography. He actually found some original blueprints of the Enterprise from the 1960s. He really, really researched his role and made his own at the same because it's a Spock from a different time in his life that we have seen in this timeline. He had to figure out how to portray Spock's battle between being half Vulcan and half human, which is not an easy to do, I imagine. He does it quite well.
It's always refreshing to hear an actor excited about the show they're on...
I'm super excited. That's not just lip service. Also, like, I've seen nothing. On this, I'm a hired gun. (Laughs.) I've seen very little other than a few shots that they would show me in playback for technical reasons. I'm so excited to see this.