SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you’ve already watched Sunday’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery, “Despite Yourself.”
“I would be upset if I was watching, and I think we need to give people permission to be upset. It’s upsetting. It’s a disappointing moment,” Cruz tells EW, admitting he was “nervous” about the show being seen as yet another series killing off an LGBTQ character of color.
“I’m nervous because we are all aware of this trope throughout television which we continue to see LGBT characters, characters of color, and women killed off in very dismissive ways, and I want people to know that this is not that,” he says. “This is a chapter of this epic love story of these two characters. And this is science fiction. This is Star Trek. There are many possibilities.”
As the reality of his character’s demise sinks in, Cruz, 44, opens up about getting the chance to play half of Star Trek’s first gay couple on TV — and why we haven’t seen the last of Dr. Culber.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What did it mean to you to be cast on a show like this?
WILSON CRUZ: It’s Star Trek! It’s as close to an American mythology as we get. To be a part of that storytelling after being a fan since I was a teenage boy who saw the pilot episode of Next Generation air, it’s all very surreal. But on a larger level, as a gay Latino man, to allow people to see themselves in my character living in a future that we all hope to create — that’s the main reason I wanted to be a part of it. I think of young people who are watching this show and are questioning their own sexuality or who are people of color and can look at this and hopefully derive some inspiration to the fact that there are no limitations to their possibilities. Dr. Culber is proof that we will be here [in the future.] I’m excited about telling that story and to tell a love story on an epic level that I, as an actor, have not been allowed to tell until here and now. It’s all very heady, exciting stuff.
What’s been the fan reaction to Culber’s relationship with Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp)?
It’s been amazing. I think Anthony and I were prepared for people to have a big reaction, but I don’t know that we were completely prepared for this size of a reaction. We are obviously familiar with the Trek fandom, and we knew that people have been longing for an LGBT storyline and main character for decades, so we were excited and proud to be those people and tell that story. But to hear the feedback from people about why it was important for them to be reflected back on the show has been really moving for me. People share these stories about growing up in an isolated area where they felt like they were the only person who was going through what they were going through, and to be a fan of Star Trek and not really see yourself in that world can be heartbreaking for people. The messages that it sends about our future on this planet is really dark. I’m so glad we get to relieve them of that a bit.
When did showrunners Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts let you know that Culber was going to die?
I’ve been living with this for a while now. When Aaron and Gretchen called to let me know this is where the show was going, I remember committing to them that I was going to bring everything I had to my last episodes in this season, and they promised to send over scenes that would make it worth my while — and they did. I have to say, in my 25 years [of acting], my favorite scene I’ve ever filmed is still coming in this season.
Why is it important to you that this death is distinguished from other deaths of other minorities on TV?
When it happens once, you’re like, ‘Oh, okay.’ When it happens twice, ‘Okay.’ When it continues to happen over and over, especially within a couple of seasons of television, you sort of feel that people are looking at people of color and LGBT characters and the people that they represent as expendable, and that it’s not as easy for them to kill off the white, straight guy. But maybe that has more to do with the fact that there aren’t as many minorities as leads on television that feel indispensable to the creators. Maybe that’s where the energy needs to be focused. The studios and producers and networks should be creating characters that women, LGBT people, and people of color can play. And when [the arc of the Discovery series] was explained to me, I got really excited — so it’s different in that way, because I’ll be back.
So will Culber come back to life?
What I can say is that I’ve been assured that this is a long, epic story, and I know where it’s going and I’m excited about telling that story. But in order for us to tell that story, this had to happen. We’re inviting people to go on this journey, and part of this journey is going to be magnificent and some of it is going to be disappointing. There is going to be glory and triumph and heartbreak, but we will come out of it at the other end better for it, I promise you. So go on the ride with us.
New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery are released Sundays on CBS All Access.