'Star Trek: Discovery' Actor Anthony Rapp Talks Diversity, Science and New Role in 'Star Trek Online'

Anthony Rapp as Lieutenant Paul Stamets of the CBS All Access series "Star Trek: Discovery."
Anthony Rapp as Lieutenant Paul Stamets of the CBS All Access series "Star Trek: Discovery." (Image credit: James Dimmock/CBS)

From stage to the small screen, "Star Trek: Discovery" actor Anthony Rapp always tried to embody queer-friendly characters. And now his Trek character is coming to the gaming world. 

Trek character Paul Stamets was recently added to the immensely popular "Star Trek Online" game as part of the content update "Awakening."

In an exclusive interview with Space.com, Rapp said gamers will encounter Stamets as a hologram, taking inspiration from The Doctor in "Star Trek: Voyager." And without giving away any spoilers, he says it will be a deeper dive for fans into "evolving and discovering more of my memories," as the "Discovery" crew continues filming on the third season.

Related: 'Star Trek: Discovery' Actor Rekha Sharma Teases Her Role in 'Star Trek Online'

Rapp describes himself as a "completionist" who adores going through every corner of a role-playing game or other video games that allow him to learn about a character. For that reason, he joked, he's a little scared to try out playing Stamets in a massively multiplayer online game that could theoretically go on forever. "I need to sleep and eat and learn my lines!" said Rapp, who gave this phone interview while on a shoot in Toronto. 

But Rapp said he will dive in eventually, even though his spare time is limited. He's in the middle of shooting Season 3 for "Star Trek: Discovery" — a season he isn't authorized to discuss yet — as well as doing a concert series, and writing a queer-positive tale set in the Arthurian age. It's all part of a larger kaleidoscope of projects the 47-year-old actor has been building upon for decades, even before he first became famous for playing the original Mark Cohen in the 1990s Broadway musical "Rent."

Rapp describes himself as someone who enjoyed "Star Trek" as a young person, although he never was a super-fan. He remembers watching reruns of "The Original Series" in the late 1970s and early 1980s while he was growing up, but he fell out of watching the show by the time "The Next Generation" started airing in 1987. (Luckily, he said, he was busy acting by that time.)

Rapp said he was thus surprised when the "Star Trek: Discovery" production team first approached him with the offer to play Stamets, because he hadn't followed the franchise for decades. But as a person who has been "out" since the 1990s, he jumped at the chance. That was not only because he could be one of the first openly queer characters on the series, but also to work closely with Wilson Cruz — who is a close friend and who, coincidentally, briefly appeared with Rapp in the Broadway production of  "Rent." Cruz's character, Hugh Culber, is  Stamets' spouse in "Discovery."

"He's a queer actor of color, so he's got the two strikes against him in terms of getting work at times," Rapp said of Cruz. "He's had some ups and downs over the years. So to be part of his renaissance and newfound wave of success is meaningful as well."

Anthony Rapp plays the character Stamets in "Star Trek Online." (Image credit: Star Trek Online)

As soon as the two actors began sharing their characters' story on screen, Rapp said there was an incredible positive response from Trek fans around the world, from all genders. "There was a hunger and desire within the Trek fans, and especially the LGBTQ+ Trek fandom, to have representation," he said.

He said the show has always presented an argument for diversity — it tends to show crews of many backgrounds working together on the bridge — although it was rarely explicit. But the show does have its moments. Rapp added he remembers an exchange in Season 1 of "The Original Series" when Capt. James T. Kirk admonishes a crew member to "leave your bigotry in your quarters; there's no room for it on the bridge" when a rude remark is made about the Vulcan crew member, Spock

The loss of Culber in Season 1 loomed large for Stamets in Season 2, who had to help his crew navigate a new physical environment while making peace with what happened with Culber. 

"Growth from loss is a very particular and personal kind of growth," Rapp said, who drew upon the experiences of losing his mother and a close friend in his mid-20s in developing the character. "Finding ways to make peace with grief, with loss, with missing someone, that in and of itself, it's a more inner journey that was done really beautifully with the writers in Season 2."

When asked what his mother would think of Rapp being in "Star Trek" now, he said that she was never a fan of science fiction shows, but probably still would have had an interest and followed it. His mother did love musical theater, however, so Rapp said he was glad that she saw his theater productions while he was younger.

Stamets in "Discovery" has been closely linked with the "spore drive" that gives the starship an ability to leap across time and space like no other vessel before it. Through a series of events in "Discovery,"  the fictional Stamets has a deep knowledge of the "mycelial network" that the spore drive uses to bring the starship to other destinations. 

"Because Stamets has gotten to see inside the multiverse and the universe [portrayed in 'Discovery'], I think there's a kind of awe and regard for the huge mysteries of the universe that Stamets can lean into and still find inspiration from," Rapp said of his character. 

The science is in part based on the work of a businessperson and largely self-taught fungi researcher who is, by no coincidence, also named Paul Stamets. Rapp said he has met the real-life Stamets and  tried to read a bit about the science, to lend a depth of knowledge to his character.

"It was really inspiring to meet him and to talk to him, and his work is essential — as far as I'm concerned — to understand a lot of what we need to do to help the planet with the various crises with the climate," Rapp said. The real-life Stamets has a 2008 TED talk explaining "Six Ways Mushrooms Can Save The World," one of which includes cleaning contaminated soil.

In between comic cons, promotional work and shooting Trek episodes, Rapp tries to find energy to work on other projects. One of them is a concert series with fellow "Rent" star Adam Pascal, which tends to run in the off-season or (where possible) in between shooting days. Updates on the series are available on Facebook.

Rapp is also writing a story for a new anthology co-edited by sci-fi writer Swapna Krishna, inspired by the Arthurian legends. "The themes and setting are meant to bring diversity and gender and queer themes, bend everything, throw it all in the pot and see what comes from it," Rapp said. The anthology, called "Sword Stone Table" (Vintage), has no release date yet, but updates are available on this page.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace