‘Star Trek: Discovery’: Wilson Cruz on Hugh Culber’s Return to Stamets and What’s Next
[Spoiler Alert: Do not read ahead if you have not watched Thursday’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery]
He is back in [his] baby’s arms.
For fans of Star Trek: Discovery, there’s been a huge hole in our hearts ever since Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) heroically died in the first season finale of the CBS All Access series. But, Thursday’s episode marked the much-anticipated return of Culber, who we found had been trapped in hell (aka Mycelium Network) ever since he left Discovery and the love of his life, Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp).
In this exclusive post-mortem interview, Cruz talks to us about when he knew he was coming back to the show, playing those emotional moments in his return episode and, of course, his bare bum making a special appearance, as well. Here he answers all our questions about Culber’s return and what comes next.
We’ve known you were returning because you were on the second season posters but did you always know you were coming back?
Wilson Cruz: In the moment, at the moment that Aaron [Harberts, then-executive producer] and Gretchen [Berg, then-executive producer] called me, I thought I was done. I was actually working my first day on 13 Reasons Why when they called. They had just done my makeup and I fell apart. They had to redo it.
I was killed off in episode 10, and then I came back very briefly in episode 11, and then Gretchen and Aaron let me know pretty quick that, “You’re coming back. Just hold on.” So that was a relief to hear! But I didn’t know that I was coming back to the extent that I actually have come back until right before we started the second season and I got the offer to become a series regular. So that changed everything and it became really clear to me that the producers were really dedicated and excited about this love story, and in their words, they really believed that it had the potential to be epic. And so that’s what we have committed ourselves to delivering.
How cool was it for you to see your name in those opening credits this season? (In the first season, Cruz was recurrring)
I have to tell you, when we were at the season two premiere, that was the first time I was in the opening credits because I do appear briefly in the first episode. I’m a crybaby and tears may have been shed. It’s been a really intense year. There have been a lot of questions, and fans have been frustrated and I understand that so I have been eagerly anticipating relieving them of that. I feel like I let go a lot of that in that moment in the audience.
So the first time we see Culber, he’s been through hell, he’s still going through hell. How did you go about playing that moment where he’s just petrified? Was that the first scene you shot of the episode?
No, it wasn’t the very first scene but I wanted to make sure that people understood the trauma that this person had been living through for months. I have to remind people that it’s not like it’s only been a couple of days. The war has been over for months, and he has been stuck there in this plane, and watching the Discovery come in and out of the Mycelium network, and he’s trying to get someone’s attention to see him, for Stamets to see him since he’s the person who’s navigating them through that network.
Imagine the frustration of seeing the person that you love and them not seeing you, and not being able to help you. But at the same time, literally being eaten alive by a species that is doing their job. That’s what they’re supposed to be doing is recycling matter and creating life out of it, and part of that is breaking you down. And so they were trying to break me down.
It’s laid out in the episode but can you recap what exactly happened to Culber going into this network and getting him out of it?
Well, getting in there is tricky, too. It has to do with the fact that energy and matter cannot be destroyed or created. It continues to exist in some way, and so when we die, there is an energy, there is a part of us that still exists, and when Stamets finds me dead on the floor of the med bay, and kisses me, he takes in part of my DNA when he kisses that tear that’s running down my face when he kisses me, and that’s how I end up in the network.
In order to get me out of there, it’s not as easy as just walking out because I have been created in that network from material that exists only in the Mycelium network, and so in order for me to leave it, I have to be reborn. And so what we discover is that the only way to do that is to take my DNA and join it with material from this universe, and that would be the cocoon that May has left behind when she took Tilly into the Mycelium network.
I have to back up to the long, mess of a hair you have when we first see Culber. That wasn’t your hair, right?
It was not my hair but I had been growing it out. I was growing my beard out and my hair out and I did not go out in public except to go to the gym because I knew I was going to be naked, and go to work, and home. Those were the three places. I was like, “I’m not letting anybody see this.” But we did decide that we needed a wig because we needed to show more length, and then we actually added beard to my face.
How was it to shoot that first scene with Anthony?
It was intense because a lot of that scene is about the fact that I don’t really believe it’s him. I just think it’s a figment of my imagination and it’s not until he tells me that story that he remembers that day we had at the museum, and that I see him. Any time I get to work with Anthony, which is all the time, he and I have a really strong connection, and a lot of it is unspoken, and it’s just easy. You know, we get to just be really present and really honest with each other, and we really do love each other. He’s so supportive of me because I’m a neurotic mess sometimes [laughs] and he’s always strong and steady. We make a great team.
When you come through the cocoon, you’re naked. Do you know if yours is the first naked bum we’ve seen on Star Trek ever?
[laughs] I don’t know. Maybe. I know this. When you see that scene, there’s Sonequa (Martin-Green, who plays Michael), Anthony, and Mary [Wiseman, who plays Tilly]. They’re standing there and I have my butt towards them. The very first time we did it, I had to disrobe, and I lie there, and Sonequa is in a position where she just sees everything. I just turn to her and I said, “Well, we family now.” And she was like, “Baby, it’s so beautiful. I love all of you.”
What I love is that they really captured that shock in the end, and it really sets us up for what happens to this person throughout the season. There are consequences and there are ramifications, and so I think we get a glimpse of that at the very end. There is no tidy bow. I think anybody who’s been through a trauma like that can’t just wake up and act as if everything is all right. This guy goes on a journey, and this show is called Discovery for a reason, and I need people to remember that. It’s not just the name of the show. And I’m also so glad we get to show them this on Valentine’s Day of all days.
Star Trek: Discovery, Thursdays, 7:30/8:30c, CBS All Access