TO BOLDLY GO. Actor Wilson Cruz talks about joining the cast of the newest “Star Trek” series and creating change in the real world
One of the many hallmarks of the “Star Trek” TV shows and movies is the Medical Officer. See, the franchise has a long history of having brilliant, witty and sympathetic doctors serving on board the Enterprise and other starships. So, it’s not that big of a surprise that the new “Star Trek: Discovery” has its own unique Medical Officer for the USS Shenzhou: Hugh Culber, who is played by Cruz Wilson of “13 Reasons Why” fame. And this is his story…
DA MAN: Hi, Wilson. Awesome to have you with us. How are you doing?
Wilson Cruz: I’m happiest when I’m working, so given that I’m working on such great projects, “Star Trek: Discovery” and the second season of “13 Reasons Why,” I am happy and
DA MAN: Obviously, we’re all looking forward to your appearance in “Star Trek: Discovery.” What, would you say, will be the biggest surprise waiting for us in this new series?
Wilson Cruz: I’d say the most surprising thing about this incarnation of Star Trek will be the incredible visual effects and the depth of storytelling.
It’s a new look and feel, but we remain wholly committed to the ideals that “Star Trek” has always stood for.
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DA MAN: By the way, can you tell us a bit about how you ended up joining the cast?
Wilson Cruz: Well, in short, I was aware of this project since its infancy and I reached out to producers to express my interest due to my lifelong appreciation for all things “Star Trek.”
I just wanted them to know of my availability and my desire to be a part of it. A few months later I got a call from producers and the rest, as one says, is, literally, history!
DA MAN: What has been your most memorable on-set moment so far?
Wilson Cruz: There have been so many memorable moments, many of which I can’t talk about without giving away too much, but everything from stepping onto the bridge for the first time for a scene to singing Christina Aguilera’s “What a Girl Wants” with Sonequa Martin-Green [who plays First Officer Michael Burnham] and Mary Wiseman [Silvia Tilly] between takes. All in all, my favorite moments involve sharing this experience with this amazing cast, which includes one of my oldest friends and TV boyfriend, Anthony Rapp.
DA MAN: Now, the “Star Trek” franchise is quite well known for its idealistic outlook and “Star Trek: Discovery” is now hailed as having the most diverse cast yet. What are your views on the show’s direction to be so inclusive?
Wilson Cruz: In creating such an inclusive cast of characters and hiring an incredibly diverse group of actors, “Star Trek: Discovery” continues its long history of reflecting our world’s actual complexity. The truth is that all any of us really want is to be seen. And when we see someone who looks like me or reflects my experience on TV or in films it can be an incredibly powerful way of saying you are seen, you matter, you and who and what you are a valuable part of our society. For young people to see themselves reflected in an honest and three dimensional character allows them to imagine and work towards endless.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that because of who you are, what you look like, who you love, the color of your skin that your dreams can’t come true”
DA MAN: Do you believe that a TV show that champions diversity can help bring about real change?
Wilson Cruz: Not only do I believe that a TV show can bring about real change, I have been a witness to its power. I’ve been so fortunate to have played characters or to have been a part of projects that have truly changed people’s lives and/or perspectives. Whether it was being the first gay person they ever encountered as Rickie Vasquez on “My So-Called Life” or playing Angel, the magnetic and gregarious drag queen living with HIV/AIDS, in “RENT” or playing Dr. Junito Vargas on “Noah’s Arc” or any number of other roles that helped people see LGBTQ people more fully, I have had people tell me or write to me to let me know how that portrayal helped them feel better about themselves or just helped them see a perspective they never even considered or that it changed their minds because they were able to see beyond the lies or fears that people have about LGBTQ people. So, yes, I believe very strongly in the power of storytelling.
DA MAN: Speaking of change, you’re also known as an advocate for the rights of LGBTQ youth. What is it that primarily drives you to speak out?
Wilson Cruz: I think, in the end, I have always advocated for LGBTQ youth because so few young people are allowed to speak for themselves. I remember what it feels like to be a young gay man of color and how scared, alone and isolated I felt throughout my teens and I want to use whatever visibility I have to help prevent young people today from feeling that. Statistically, LGBTQ youth or more likely to bullied, drop out of school, be homeless or commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts and I’d like to think I can be play a small part in turning that around.
DA MAN: Personally, what is it that gives you the drive to get up and face each day as it comes?
Wilson Cruz: The only thing that helps me each and every day, no matter how wonderful or difficult that day is, is to be mindfully and consciously grateful for my life, my family and friends, for the grace that I’ve been shown in my own life. When life is good and feels like things are going my way, it’s easy. The challenge is to remember to be grateful when times are hard, but that is also when it’s most important. I tell people all the time, when you’re having a rough time, make a list of the things that you are most grateful for, even if it’s just to be thankful for the ability to breathe, to wake up and try again, and most of all, to be grateful for whatever lesson lies within the challenges you happen to be facing. If you do, I promise you, you will begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
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DA MAN: On a more positive note, what (or where, when, with whom, etc.) are you most happy?
Wilson Cruz: Like I said earlier, I am happiest when I am working. That’s true because when I’m working I am fulfilling my purpose and being of use and giving something back, I hope. I’m also happiest when I’m with my friends and family, because they know me best and see my feet on the ground, which is especially necessary at times like these when it’s easy to get carried away.
DA MAN: What do you usually do when you simply want to get away from it all and have a little bit of “me” time?
Wilson Cruz: If there is a beach I can walk along, a mountain or forest I can hike, I find that it helps to ground me and remind me of the vastness of the world and how small my little problems are.
DA MAN: What has been your greatest achievement to date?
Wilson Cruz: I guess, my greatest achievement, so far, is that I’ve been able to have a long and, I think, successful career in this industry on my own terms, as an openly gay Latino man and that I’ve been able to use my gifts to not only entertain, but to open minds. That I’ve been able to change minds or support LGBTQ people with my work is more than I could’ve ever have hoped for.
“Not only do I believe that a TV show can bring about real change, I have been a witness to its power”
DA MAN: This might be a bit of a cliché, but where do you see yourself in, say, five years from now?
Wilson Cruz: I hope in five years, I am still doing work that excites me and challenges me. I hope that I’m still working on TV, but also on stage and in film. I hope that I’ve met someone to share it all with by then, too. [Smiles]
DA MAN: Who is your number one real-life role model?
Wilson Cruz: That’s a hard one. There have been so many people who have inspired me. Right off the top of my head, the first name that comes to mind is James Baldwin, because he used his art to challenge and entertain and reflect society and he did it as an openly gay man of color at a very difficult time in history.
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DA MAN: Conversely, to anybody who sees you as a role model and look up to you, what would be your number one piece of advice?
Wilson Cruz: The best piece of advice I can give is: Don’t let anyone tell you that because of who you are, what you look like, who you love, the color of your skin that your dreams can’t come true. They can and will come true because you will make them so. Get up every day and show up for your dream. Prepare yourself with knowledge and experience and then be your own advocate in pursuit of your dream. It works.
DA MAN: Finally, what are you most thankful for in life?
Wilson Cruz: I am most thankful for this life and the way that I’ve been used thus far. I remain grateful for the kindness that is shown me and the ability to see it, acknowledge it and reciprocate it.
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