Anson Mount Sets a High Bar

·14 min read
Photo credit: Saty + Pratha / CBS Watch
Photo credit: Saty + Pratha / CBS Watch

As male starship captains go, Captain Pike has the best hair in the history of Star Trek. This isn’t remotely up for debate. Although Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk was once christened “James Tiberius Perfect Hair” in 2013, those days are long over. Anson Mount’s Captain Christopher Pike (the captain who preceded Kirk in Trek’s sprawling chronology) has the best dude hair in the entire Final Frontier. If you were to check the hashtag for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, various memes might lead you to believe that the main character of the latest and boldest Trek is, in fact, Mount’s coiffure. But Mount is not really interested in the way he looks, telling Esquire, “I’m the kind of guy who hates shopping. I hate grooming myself.” And then, Mount immediately gives all the credit to someone else: “That’s all our resident hair guru, Daniel Losco. His work seems to have been noticed.”

This small exchange about Captain Pike’s hair is a microcosm of Mount’s genuine humility and charm. Just like Pike wouldn’t take credit for the heroism of Spock (Ethan Peck) or the sacrifices of Number One (Rebecca Romijn), Mount isn’t comfortable receiving all the accolades. During our Zoom chat, Mount makes it clear that the success of Strange New Worlds (the most critically acclaimed Star Trek in years) is all thanks to the collaborative nature of the cast and crew. And if you think this Enterprise crew seems like a close-knit family, you’re right. “There’s a lot of trust and camaraderie,” Mount says. “We’re having an absolute blast. We really tickle the shit out of each other.”

Throughout Season One of Strange New Worlds, Pike’s leadership style manifests in family-style meals for the crew, usually cooked up by the captain in his quarters. But these Starfleet family dinners were not invented by the writers of Strange New Worlds; instead, it came from Mount himself. “Anson started talking to us about how he creates consensus in his life over cooking,” co-showrunner Akiva Goldsman tells Esquire. “So we instantly knew what to do with his quarters. In the same way, in a deeper and longer sense, there’s this interchangeability between Patrick Stewart and Jean-Luc Picard. This same thing is happening pretty quickly with Anson. He is Pike. We write toward Anson now.”

Photo credit: Marni Grossman
Photo credit: Marni Grossman

In the Star Trek pantheon, the character of Captain Pike holds the unique distinction of being frequently reintroduced. First played by Jeffrey Hunter in the 1964 unused Star Trek pilot, “The Cage,” Pike was then reimagined as a tragic figure in the 1966 episode “The Menagerie,” played wordlessly by Sean Kenney. In the J.J. Abrams 2009 Star Trek reboot, Bruce Greenwood embodied an alternate older version of Pike. Then, in 2019, Star Trek: Discovery Season Two beamed in Mount, who at this point in the chronology is living between the events of “The Cage” and “The Menagerie.” Discovery recontextualized Pike’s tragic fate with sci-fi prescience, giving him terrible knowledge of what’s to come. Throughout Strange New Worlds Season One, that concept is revisited, letting viewers who are hazy on Discovery off the hook with another take on this emotional rollercoaster. In the Strange New Worlds Season One finale, Pike flirts with changing his own future history, only to be visited by his finger-wagging alternate future self, who drops him into a “what if?” where Pike remains the captain of the Enterprise and James T. Kirk heads up a different ship.

It’s a lot of Trekkie continuity to juggle in your mind, but even if this season of Strange New Worlds is your first Star Trek ever, you won’t be confused at all. Just before the airing of the finale, Esquire caught up with Mount to discuss the long and winding road of this reluctant space hero and what’s next for Season Two.

Let’s go back to Discovery Season Two. Right now, it seems like a forgone conclusion that Strange New Worlds would happen. But what was it like for you? When did you realize that your extended guest role on Discovery would become something more?

According to Akiva [Goldsman], when he joined Discovery and when they were preparing Season One, he'd only been told, “It's a Star Trek prequel.” He assumed that it was going to be the Pike show. He shows up and he’s like, "Wait, what? What's Discovery?” He told [CBS], “Well, okay, but you really should do a Pike show.” Then the ideas were rolling around for Season Two, and I had been in discussion with him about Season One for [the villain] Captain Lorca. They hired Jason Isaacs, which I would have as well, but then they thought, “Well, maybe Anson will fit in this one, for Pike.” And that worked.

But they didn’t tell me those conversations [for a spin-off] were happening. Thank God. It was interesting that they were clearly making a tremendous expenditure for the Enterprise bridge set. Ethan [Peck] and Rebecca [Romijn] and I were all like, “It would be a shame to waste all that money." Eventually, we did some shorts. During one of the shorts, I called Alex Kurtzman to talk about something innocuous. I don’t even remember what it was. He phoned me back two days later and said, “Hey, I think we got a show.” They were originally going to try to fast-track it, but then of course the pandemic hit. We didn’t hear anything for a long time.

Photo credit: Saty + Pratha / CBS Watch
Photo credit: Saty + Pratha / CBS Watch

Back in 1964, Jeffrey Hunter’s version of Pike was a reluctant hero. You revisited that idea during this entire season of Strange New Worlds. Why are reluctant heroes so appealing?

It's something that Joseph Campbell pointed out, right? In his analysis of dramatic structure, there’s a call to adventure. Then the hero must refuse the call to adventure. I’m not sure what that’s about, but I have noticed it quite a bit. Maybe it has something to do with establishing humility. By the way, if you want to watch a perfect implementation of Campbell’s structure, watch Kung Fu Panda. I mean, it’s beat for beat.

Speaking of Campbell, I want to talk about Star Wars a bit. You got on social media a few weeks back and spoke out against the racism Moses Ingram received when Obi-Wan Kenobi debuted. You sort of unified the Star Wars and Star Trek fandoms, saying, among other things, “We, the Trek Family, have her back.” Why was it important to you to say this publicly?

I think it was partially how I was raised. I've never broke to bullies. I have a real stick in my craw about bullies and that's one side of it. The other side of it is that what we do is not only dependent upon a certain level of empathy—it requires an analysis and a covetousness of empathy. When I see that happening to somebody, I don't think that I should be the exception. I don't think it should have made headlines, honestly, that I spoke out. I think it should be expected. I think it should be the norm. What has started to become not necessarily acceptable, but expected in our culture—including the fandom culture—is really concerning to me, because I think that expectation is just a few steps down from acceptance. I don't think we should ever accept that kind of behavior and inhumanity, particularly by people who deal in humanity.

The news is bleak lately, particularly out of the Supreme Court. It’s a stark contrast to Pike in the first Strange New Worlds episode telling us that open and honest debate can get us to a point of peace and unity. Can we get there? How do you view the way forward?

It's very interesting to become a father in this time. I do think we have a tendency to look back at the earlier periods of our history with rose-tinted glasses. We grew up terrified that we would die in a nuclear holocaust, but we don't tend to remember that or talk about that.

But, yes. I think we will get through this. I think that there is such a thing as objective truth and the truth always comes to light, as we're seeing right now. As a culture, as a world, we're still struggling with this new way of being that happened quite suddenly. I don't think anybody really considered all the implications of everyone suddenly having a device in their hand that allows them to communicate with everyone in the world simultaneously and at a moment's touch. I often think that if you were to go back thirty years and tell people about this thing called Twitter, the consensus reaction would be, "Oh, wow. We'll really get together and be organized. We'll finally get over all of our problems.” But no—as it turns out, it just exacerbated our problems. Those who were marginalized are suddenly now a voting block or a disruptor block, or at times a mob. I think we’ll get there, but I think we're still struggling with how to deal with that.

Photo credit: Saty + Pratha / CBS Watch
Photo credit: Saty + Pratha / CBS Watch

I know another fellow Enterprise captain, Sir Patrick Stewart, often has smart insights into the state of the world. Did you get a chance to talk with him when you both cameoed in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness? [Stewart cameoed as Professor X, from the X-Men, and Mount as Black Bolt, reprising his role from the series Inhumans.]

No, he was actually not there! [Laughs] He was shooting Picard. That was a very interesting shoot because my role came up in the reshoots. As you can imagine, several of the actors were quite busy. Patrick was not there. Chiwetel [Ejiofor] was not there. Krasinski's contract wasn't even done. He wasn't there. We had actors playing those roles, knowing that they were going to either be substituting their shots or transplanting faces. I've never done anything quite like that, and I was in disbelief of how well it cut together.

More tricky camera work: in the Season One finale of Strange New Worlds, you played opposite yourself. I think you really nailed this older, alternate timeline version of Pike. But how? What was your process?

Mostly I didn't want to overdo it, because if you talk to most people who are in their seventies or eighties, they will tell you that they still feel like they're in their thirties, other than a few kinks here and there. For whatever reason, I'm what they call an outside-in actor. I start with the body. I just wanted to find the places where the movement was not as easy and the voice was different. It was necessary to differentiate it a bit because I had scenes with myself. It was just necessary for the clarity of the scene. I wanted a voice that sounded like it had given up a little bit after lots of emotional turmoil. So I thought, what would my voice sound like if I had spent a lot of time sobbing and screaming?

In the season finale, Captain Pike meets Captain Kirk (Paul Wesley) in an alternate future. You have this great, understated moment where you just say, “Tell me about yourself, Jim.”

I really love that scene because it was so well written. The writers know where to trust that the audience can do its own work. They don't have to overtly say Pike gets it or is told that Jim should have been in the chair and he's going to end up becoming the captain of the Enterprise. It’s just simple: tell me about yourself. That conveys everything we need to know. Pike understands that his older self wasn’t just showing him he’s the wrong guy in the wrong place. It’s also about showing him who the right guy would be. Pike is thinking, “If this guy is going to carry on my legacy, if he's going to take on my baby, I want to know something about him and see what's beyond the bluster.”

For you, what’s the essential difference between Pike and Kirk?

There are very few things that I’ve learned in making a long-running TV show. But one trick I’ve learned is that no matter what you do, you’re always putting down footprints that you’re going to have to tread again. So, in the beginning, you try to be careful not to press those footprints too deep. You go in saying to yourself, "Okay, just be careful of how much you think you know."

There are very few things that I know for sure. But one thing that I told [showrunner] Henry [Alonso Myers] is that at the end of all of this, we think the defining quality of Kirk is machismo or bravado. The defining characteristic for Picard, perhaps, is intellect. I would like that defining quality for Pike to be the heart. That’s the best I can put it. Hopefully, Pike can give Kirk just enough of that heart for Kirk to avoid making the kinds of mistakes that he makes in this episode.

How will Pike be different in Season Two of Strange New Worlds?

I would say he’s more resolute after the finale of Season One. He tried out the idea of having his cake and eating it too. It didn't work, and strangely, when he realizes there’s no honorable way out, that’s a relief. The older Pike made it very clear: you still have a choice. But to somebody like Pike, it isn’t a choice. So this is a choice that almost makes itself, and it is a tremendous relief. He doesn't have to worry about it anymore. His job now is to make every day count as much as possible. There's a lot of freedom in that.

Photo credit: Saty + Pratha / CBS Watch
Photo credit: Saty + Pratha / CBS Watch

How long can you play Captain Pike? It’s a forever thing with Star Trek, right?

I think that's going to depend on where my daughter decides to go to college. [Laughs] If she decides to go to a state school, that's one answer. If she decides to go to Harvard, that's another answer. To be honest with you, this job is a dream come true. But to give the Trek culture something back, I think there has to be a significant body of work to be on par with the Kirk era and the Picard era. Otherwise, I think they will feel shorted.

Personally, I love this job. I'm still trying to convince them of ways to get the job moved outside. I love working outside. I have two problems with the sound stage: first, it’s a black box theater where you’re not just doing an hour and a half play. You’re going in for twelve to fourteen hours, and that can be difficult for a country boy like me. The second reason is a bit more idealistic. I think sound stages are constructed largely to remove chaos from the artistic process, and I firmly believe chaos is an essential ingredient to the creative process. But that’s a high-level problem.

To be clear, I'm really happy. I love our creative team and Paramount has treated us exceptionally well. As you know, we've taken some big swings on this show already. I've just been gobsmacked at how many times the network has gotten it. Even just something like the comedy. Comedy is a risk!

But all of Star Trek is risky, right?

Exactly. Having a core set of values is at times a risk. Akiva [Goldsman] said recently during an interview we did together that “Star Trek has never been value-neutral.” The easy way for the show would be to be value-neutral, especially right now. But that’s just not what Star Trek is.

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