Santiago Cabrera shares everything about his latest TV show “Star Trek: Picard,” his fondest memories of working with Sir Patrick Stewart and more.
Santiago Cabrera has had quite a few memorable roles, from Isaac Mendez in NBC’s superhuman series “Heroes” and in CBS’ suspense drama “Salvation” as Darius Tanz. The Venezuelan-born Chilean-British actor earned his acting spurs in theater, as Cabrera trained at Drama Centre London, which is why he has a lot in common with the classically-trained artists of Hollywood.
Cabrera became a household name after he appeared in the romantic comedy “Love and Other Disasters” as the Argentinian Paolo Sarmiento. Since then, he has done quite a few movies and multiple TV shows such as BBC’s “The Musketeers” and also “Merlin.”
This year, though, he joins the main cast of “Star Trek: Picard” as Cristobal “Chris’ Rios. DA MAN caught up with Cabrera just before the release of this long-awaited TV show to discuss everything about this new “Trek” series, his admiration for Sir Patrick Stewart and the urge to come back to theater.
DAMAN: Hi Santiago, it’s great to have you with us. What keeps you busy these days?
Santiago Cabrera: I’m doing very good, thank you. Right now, I’m in Boston for a movie that I’m doing over here.
DA: Right now, out of all your works, what really caught our attention is “Star Trek: Picard.” What is it like being part of this series?
SC: It was amazing. You know, one always hopes that the projects they’re involved in—be it film, TV or theater—can find an audience. For me, to be part of something that is already such a cultural phenomenon is a very exciting thing, because you’ve got that won already. A couple of weeks ago, I was in L.A. for the Hollywood Premiere of “Star Trek: Picard,” where they screened the first three episodes of our show. It was the first time I’d seen it and I was genuinely blown away by it. The level of detail and work that goes behind this show is phenomenal and incredible. Now, the pressure is to not disappoint. Having watched the first three episodes, I think the fans will be happy. I’m excited for the world to check it out now.
DA: Can you give us a short breakdown of what audiences can expect from “Star Trek: Picard”?
SC: For one, it’s a very psychological show. We meet a much more vulnerable Picard [Sir Patrick Stewart] and he’s not the man people are accustomed to. Along with him, we then meet all these new characters who seem broken in their own ways: A band of misfits and outcasts who are looking to find their way again. It’s truly a character piece.
DA: If we’re not mistaken, “Star Trek: Picard” is the eight series in the “Star Trek” franchise. How does “Star Trek: Picard” stand apart from the others?
SC: I think the pace of it is very unique. Without losing its faithfulness to the spirit of “Star Trek,” it’s a true departure and new beginning in so many ways. It’s also very “earthy.” And no space suits, since a lot of it actually plays on earth at the beginning.
DA: You play a guy named Cristobal “Chris” Rios. What first attracted you to playing the character and how did you end up being cast for this one?
SC: I’ve been part of many historical pieces, some fantastical and mythical based projects, epic novels and all that … but I’ve never been in the future before. So, that was new. And, of course, the team behind this was also very appealing to me. With Stewart being involved and the fact that Michael Chabon was the lead writer and show runner was a huge draw. Aside to that, Alex Kurtzman and Heather Kadin from Secret Hideout—who produce this show—approached me quite early as it was gearing up. At that time, they had no scripts yet, only Sir Patrick Stewart. But from the pitch and people behind it, I said “I’m in,” and it was definitely the right call.
DA: Can you tell us a bit about your character’s role in this series?
SC: Rios is a pilot and he’s ex-Starfleet and you’ll often see him buried behind a book. A very traumatic event in his past caused his separation from Starfleet and he carries his demons and wounds from that past. He meets Picard early in the series, which reminds him of his past life. In many ways, Rios was a man on the path to become a great Starfleet Captain himself. A prodigy in his own right, but things took a turn and his life went in a very different direction.
DA: Now that “Star Trek: Picard” is making its global run, how do you think will audiences react?
SC: I feel very confident that the fans will really embrace it. It’s everything they could hope for and more. It was also made for non “Star Trek” fans in mind. The team behind it has been very clear about how they also wanted to be able to introduce people to this story and have them discover it for themselves. All the elements are there. It’s true to its time. It’s a show for today.
DA: Do you think that fans of the “Star Trek” franchise will be missing out by not following “Star Trek: Picard”?
SC: I honestly don’t see a world where fans of “Star Trek” will not watch this. [Laughs] I really don’t.
DA: At its core, what, would you say, is the number-one reason to watch “Star Trek: Picard”?
SC: Good storytelling, be it drama or any other genre, always comes with great actors having ownership of their characters. You believe they are that person. You live with them for the duration of the story. For instance, Sir Patrick Stewart as Picard takes that to a different level. It’s unlike anything you have ever seen before. He played Picard in over 150 episodes of television, in four movies, for over a decade. Cut to 20 years after his last incarnation and he’s back living with him again. From the moment you see that first frame it’s all there. Effortlessly. wasn’t enough of a draw, the show very smartly uses the real time, as it’s part of our story. 20 years have actually passed in Picard, and as you will find out, a lot has changed. The man and the legend.
DA: Speaking of Sir Patrick Stewart, what are some of your fondest memories of working with him?
SC: Stewart is just one of the group. There’s no hierarchy with him. We all sit around together between takes, chatting, telling stories. And in the midst of all that you get treats where Stewart will tell you about a play he did 30 years ago, recite some Shakespeare there and then … it’s incredible. So, basically you get a matinee show happening right in front of you.
DA: Are you a Trekkie yourself?
SC: I was not, but I did a lot of research before starting—mainly watching many episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”—and was hooked straight off the bat. I love the philosophy behind it—not only the sense of fun and adventure, but also it’s constant pursuit to tell human stories. It was very ahead of its time.
“One always hopes that the projects they’re involved in—be it film, TV or theater—can find an audience”
DA: Besides “Star Trek: Picard,” do you have any plans for 2020?
SC: Like I mentioned earlier, I’m about to start a movie in Boston. This movie keeps me busy until March. After that, I’ll have to grow my hair and beard back again before starting up on season two of “Star Trek: Picard.” Depending on when we go into production, I might fit another project in there beforehand. A play in theater would be nice, since I haven’t been on stage for a while.
Being around Sir Patrick Stewart reminds you of your roots. That’s how I started and I always thought my career would be one of doing theater, but sometimes things take over and introduce you to new avenues. I love camera work; the subtlety of the craft is something I’ve truly fallen in love with. But still, I miss the stage. I’d like to do theater again. Not for the sake of it, but something good. A classic ideally, like Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Chekhov. Those plays, those types of characters would really get those creatuve juices flowing.
DA: Going forward, are there any specific challenges—maybe certain roles or certain genres—that you’d like to tackle as an actor?
SC: I like to keep it as varied as possible, looking for different challenges every time. I’m always attracted to things that scare me a bit, so I guess looking for material that’s risky. My favorite genre I would say is black comedy or dark humor. It’s the hardest thing to pull off, I think, but the best when done right. Larger than life characters and yet grounded in reality.
DA: On the flip side, one of your most recognizable appearances was in “The Musketeers.” What is your fondest memory of being on that show?
SC: Being part of such a great story like Dumas’ “Musketeers” was a treat every day. It’s 8 a.m. and you’re about to shoot your first scene of the day. As the cameras are getting ready to roll, you’re on a horse, at the top of a hill overlooking a beautiful sunrise, ready to get into a sword fight you’ve been rehearsing for the last three weeks. And in it, you’re going to kick these stunt guys’ asses. [Laughs] I mean, the job was so much fun. And I loved my character. My three-year-old son now plays with a little Aramis action figure I got given, although he keeps popping his head off before bursting out laughing. “Aramis lost his head again.” He has no idea it’s meant to be me.
DA: Speaking of which, Aramis went through quite a lot throughout the movie. Was it a fun role to play?
SC: So much fun. There’s a lighter side to him, which I really embraced and always looked to bring out. Even in the midst of all the drama. Also, the contradiction within him. This fun-loving guy, a romantic of sorts, constantly falling in love with different women he meets but who thinks his true calling is to be a priest.
DA: When you’re not working, how do you usually spend your days?
SC: I spend the days with my son. Definitely the most challenging and exhausting job I’ve ever done, but by far the most rewarding and my favorite thing in the whole world. I miss him so much when I’m away, as I used to being with him all day, so when I leave, I really feel the shift. My wife is amazing and takes over completely so that’s very calming and reassuring. I’m so lucky to have her, both of us are, but he definitely fills our days.
DA: Besides acting, what else are you passionate about right now?
SC: I love to play music—guitar mainly. I took up lessons again because I realized either I end up with a much deeper grasp of the instrument or I should just give it up completely. I find music to be an incredible outlet. Therapeutic, calming, challenging, frustrating, and inspiring. It reminds me of the discipline needed to create any art form. When I started acting at drama school, that passion and drive we all had as students to learn the craft. The endless curiosity. The attention to detail. The repetition needed to get better, and of course most importantly to get out there and do it. Playing music reminds me of that everyday. You must never lose the hunger for what it is you do. It can’t become routine.
DA: One last question: Do you have a favorite quote or saying that keeps you going through busy days on set?
SC: “Repetition is the mother of all arts.” And in that quote, I find that you never repeat it the same way twice. One always feeds into the other.
PHOTOGRAPHY MITCHELL NGUYEN McCORMACK & JONATHAN D’AMBROSIO
STYLING ARI TAVELMAN
GROOMING KRISTEN SHAW AT THE WALL GROUP
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