Star Trek: Short Treks Star Aldis Hodge Talks Acting Opposite An A.I.
Tomorrow night at 9e 6p, the second episode of Star Trek: Short Treks, “Calypso,” will air on Space. Hidden Figures‘ Aldis Hodge stars in “Calypso” as Craft, a Trek newcomer who “finds himself on board a deserted ship…his only companion and hope for survival…an A.I. computer interface.” We don’t know much about Craft or this mysterious A.I., so to give you a better idea of what’s to come we talked to Hodge about Trek, technology, and the Kirk vs. Picard debate.
Space: What’s your history with Star Trek? Were you a fan coming into this or is this a new universe for you? Do you have a favourite character?
Aldis Hodge: I definitely grew up watching Star Trek—my favourite character’s Worf [laughs]. No favourite episode, but I’ve seen a great deal from the TV side of things. I’ve seen all of Discovery, it’s fantastic. I’ve seen all of the recent movies, love those as well. But yeah, I’m a regional Trekkie, to a degree. I’m in there, I’m in the club.
In that case, I have to ask: Kirk or Picard?
Oof, come on now [laughs]. That’s a hard question, I can’t answer that. But I grew up on Picard. So I gotta be biased, I gotta go Picard, I grew up on him. That’s who I was watching.
Your character, Craft, is alone on a ship with only AI to keep him company (and keep him alive). How would you describe Craft? Is he the kind of person that freaks out or keeps his cool?
He definitely keeps his cool. A little bit of backstory on him: he’s a soldier who, when the ship discovers him, he’s just coming off of a war. He’s been gone for 10 years, fighting this war. So for him, he’s well-trained to adapt to situations that are foreign to him…the difference here is that the relationship to be discovered with the ship is very odd and sort of formative for him, because it’s the first time he’s been able to communicate with anyone or anything in this way in such a long time. But he definitely keeps his cool.
Michael Chabon wrote the story for your Short Trek featurette. He’s won Hugo and Nebula awards for his sci-fi writing (not to mention penning some blockbuster movies like Spider-Man). Were you excited when you found out you’d be working on something he wrote?
Oh absolutely. When I first got the script and found out who wrote it, I of course did a little research…and found out, ok, this guy’s a big deal. That added a little bit of weight to the pressure I had on my shoulders to try to do a good job. But I met him, he’s a cool cat. He came on for a bit. I really appreciated taking his perspective on the story because I don’t think it’s a point of view we’ve seen in Star Trek yet, so I think people will really enjoy that.
And then there’s… the emotional journey that this character goes through. Again, I don’t know if we’ve seen that yet. So I really, really loved it. But I think he did a fantastic job, and it’s great to work with a guy like that because it’s like…as an artist, individually, I can only get better by working with people who are masters in their field. That’s kind of what it felt like, and I hope I delivered.
You mentioned that your character goes through an emotional journey during the featurette. Was that journey difficult to convey given that 1) the featurette is much shorter than a regular Star Trek episode and 2) you had to perform on your own as opposed to with a group of other actors?
For me, it was actually quite an easy process. Because the state of mind for the character, trying to form the nature of it all…it’s easy to remember what it feels like to be alone. Because I feel like, to a degree, most of us have been alone at some point in our lives or felt that loss, that sense of confusion. That’s where he is for a good bit of his journey, mentally.
Also, our director Olatunde [Osunsanmi] had said, ‘this guy is incredibly talented and knows exactly how to get to where he needs to go.’ And he made me feel very comfortable when it came to the weight I’m carrying of being the one person people see this entire episode. That is a little intimidating, but I loved the challenge of it. And we had a great crew. We had an actress who was there reading lines…she was reading the voice for me while I was doing my performance. So I look alone but I actually wasn’t, of course, achieving this alone. I had a lot of help and a lot of support. It was a good, awesome, comfortable environment.
Can you tell us anything about the ship’s AI? Is it a HAL 9000-type or a friendly Star Wars droid kind of intelligence?
I will say this much—because we don’t really know at times. After watching this episode, the audience will go back to watching Star Trek and they will have a completely new perspective on what the ship actually is. I believe there’s an evolution that takes place, that they’re going to wonder if the ship is there already in the Discovery universe. Just be prepared for a new outlook on what the ship is and what AI is.
When you consider all the technology that Star Trek has presented us as possibilities for the future (from the medical tricorder to the teleportation transporter), is there one you want to see most in your lifetime?
Warp speed would be awesome, because I’m tired of traffic [laughs]. And I’d definitely like to be transported to places. If I could just beam from work to home, that’d be awesome. What seems kind of creepy about the Star Trek universe and how it ties to reality now is that some of what they’re doing seems to be what people are actually trying to accomplish today. So I don’t think we’re very far off, and I may see some of it in my lifetime. But as far as right now, immediately, here, I need warp speed.