Shazad Latif Of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Explains How His Role Challenges Masculinity [Interview]
The 29-year-old star of Star Trek: Discovery, Shazad Latif, talks about how his role challenges the idea of masculinity.
Note: Spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery
If you’re a Star Trek: Discovery fan and have been following the saga of First Officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green); Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Issacs), Tilly (Mary Wiseman), Saru (Doug Jones), Stamets (Anthony Rapp), Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz), and Lt. Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) as they battle time loops, Mirror Verse versions of themselves, and, as always, Klingons—a warrior race that have been in present in Star Trek since the original series—you got the biggest shock last Sunday.
In that episode, titled “The Wolf Inside” it was revealed that Lt. Tyler wasn’t simply a prisoner of war suffering PTSD after being tortured by Klingons. Turns out he is a Klingon — Voq to be specific, a rather terrifying leader firmly committed to keeping Klingon traditions alive and not making peace with humans who appeared in the very first episode of Discovery.
This meant the 29-year-old Latif, who also starred in cult faves such as Penny Dreadful, MI-5, Spooks, and The Next Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, has been playing a dual role the whole time.
Latif caught up with @Okayplayer to talk more about his role and how it turns traditional ideas of masculinity on its ear.
Okayplayer: There’s a Manchurian Candidate kind of vibe to your storyline on Star Trek: Discover. I was wondering what sparked your interest in playing that dual role of Voq and Ash Tyler?
Shazad Latif: I’d love to say it was my choice, but I’m not quite at that level yet. Maybe in a couple of years, but I think Alex Kurtzman must have seen Penny Dreadful [note: Latif played Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde] and he knew I could sort of go to both places, emotionally and otherwise… Double the work, but, you know, double the enjoyment.
OKP: In a recent interview, you mentioned that one of the challenges was creating different ways of speaking for Voq and Lieutenant Tyler. Could you go into more detail about the techniques you came up with for those characters? Because they sound very different.
SL: I suppose it’s easier anyway because you’re doing another language. With the Klingon stuff, you’re literally in another world. It’s a completely different thing and you just have to get your voice used to it and understanding the Arabic sounds and the Spanish sounds that are very similar to that, and the rolling r’s and the “huhs” and all that kind of stuff.
Then, once you establish that, then you can try and find links between where you’d placed Voq’s voice, and I wanted to give him some kind of sentiment and emotion…some deepness, and some softness as well, some softness because I think there’s something very soft about this outcast who’s albino and who manifests his own destiny.
I tried to relate that to Tyler, as well. Sometimes he’s a vulnerable male character, and that came through in the voices, I think. Just sort of stuck in the back of the throat slightly. The thing I love about Tyler is that the women that he’s with in the scene are stronger than him, usually, when we see him in pain, in the med bay, or just being cradled by either L’Rell or Michael. It’s nice to play a male character like that, rather than what could you see in the first few episodes, it’s just a classic American action hero. We flipped on its head, I think.
OKP: You also share a lot of incredibly emotionally vulnerable scenes with Sonequa Martin-Green. What is it like to have her as a screen partner, and how did you two develop that chemistry that you have?
SL: We got on straight away when we met anyway, and that’s always nice. I’d love to have not met her at all until we first met on screen, but I suppose you can’t really do that. We just listened to each other. We just respect each other’s craft. We respect the craft of acting, but we also respect each other’s way of doing things, and as soon as they say, “Action,” it’s our time, you know?
We just give in and try and relax and really pay attention to each other. That’s the beauty of it, you know? It’s very lovely working with her, because you really want to create the best work we can do, both of us. Very different styles, as well. I think it’s nice, different energies we bring to the screen. I love working with her. She’s my big sister. It’s great.
OKP: You honed your skills at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. I was wondering how did that prepare you for the career that you have now?
SL: I only went for a year and a half. It was a great place to study, and they sort of left it up to us there. It wasn’t a specific school of thought they went from. I had to do a lot of the work myself, but it was a lovely place to study. It definitely helped, because you can fail there. That was a nice place to fail. But I didn’t do much, because I left early and started working on MI-5 and then with Spooks. I was sort of thrown in quite young. I learned a lot with Spooks. That was my first job.
OKP: Do you think for aspiring actors, would you recommend diving right in, or do you think that people should go to school? Did you end up learning more from just diving right in, or did you learn more from having those chances to fail when you were in school?