[This story contains spoilers for episode three of Star Trek: Picard.]
Lea Thompson knows a thing or two about cinematic time travel. So, when the opportunity arose for the Back to the Future star to direct two episodes of the current Star Trek: Picard season revolving around the classic sci-fi trope, she knew it was going to be special.
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Thompson helmed episode three, “Assimilated,” which sees the heroes, along with the Borg Queen (Annie Wersching) travel back to the year 2024 in order to undo a change in the timeline created by Q (John de Lancie), who wanted to teach Jean-Luc (Patrick Stewart) a lesson. Thompson also directed episode four, but was mum on what to expect.
Having starred as Lorraine McFly in the iconic Back to the Future trilogy (1985-90), the Picard director told The Hollywood Reporter she was thrilled for the chance to explore her own take on what time travel might look like, sans Doc Brown’s DeLorean.
“I am an expert on time travel,” Thompson says with a laugh. “There is a certain visual canon for time travel in Star Trek, so we tried to respect that, but also put our own spin on what it would look like going back in time.”
Concept details added by the director for the intense moment included the reversal of a tear running down Agnes’ [Alison Pill] cheek and sparks — once falling on the crew — suddenly rising off the ground. “And we did the [Alfred] Hitchcock trick where you dolly in and zoom out,” she adds.
Courtesy of Paramount+
A Trekkie since she was young, Thompson landing behind the camera for the series was a dream come true and, as she points out, not as out of the blue as some might assume. Thompson has several directing credits in her long career, including a number of episodes of DC’s Stargirl. “I was beside myself — even though it was in the middle of the pandemic,” Thompson says of her Picard duties.
There are a number of lighthearted moments in episode three — such as when Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) beams down in 2024 and is asked by an adorable little girl who witnessed her arrival if she is a superhero — but there is also perhaps the most gut-wrenching of the entire Paramount+ series when Elnor (Evan Evagora) is killed. That was a tough day of shooting, says Thompson, who lavishes praise on Raffi actress Michelle Hurd for her heartbreaking performance.
“That was really, really, really intense,” Thompson recalls. “And Michelle was amazing. Some of the takes, she was really keening — and I was sobbing at the monitor. We chose a little bit quieter take, but each one was brilliant. She really connected with that. I know fans are going to be sad. Elnor was such a great addition to the crew.”
Courtesy of Paramount+
Directing living-legend Stewart was a thrill of a lifetime, Thompson marvels — but so was directing a group of immensely talented actresses, each with their own unique process.
“Alison, Jeri, Michelle, Orla and Annie are all so amazing,” Thompson says. “They all have their own characters and ways of working, and yet they are all simpatico. It is a usual experience, to be honest, because usually, it is just a couple of girls and a bunch of guys. It’s a testament to [executive producers] Terry [Matalas] and Akiva [Goldsman] and Alex [Kurtzman] that they created these great female characters and let them sing, let them be complicated and not perfect, because it does start at the top with the writing.”
That said, the director admits she was in awe of every moment with the show’s namesake. “Patrick is kind, funny, smart and above all, so charming,” says Thompson, still a bit taken. “And when you point the camera at him, you go, ‘Yup! That’s a star!'”
Star Trek: Picard streams Thursdays on Paramount+.
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