‘Star Trek: Discovery’s Doug Jones on Saru’s Very Different Look
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 3, Episode 11 of Star Trek: Discovery, “Su’Kal.”]
Filming the December 24 episode of Star Trek: Discovery was a bit different for Doug Jones — no prosthetics!
Saru (Jones), Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), and Dr. Hugh Culber’s (Wilson Cruz) appearances all change (due to a program’s holograms) when they go on a mission to check out a life sign (another Kelpien, which means so much to Saru): the alien looks human, and the humans alien. And their mission not only leads to the cause of the Burn (the Kelpien child) but also ends with Saru and Culber staying behind (for the time being) to keep that from happening again.
Here, Jones, on break from filming Season 4 for Christmas, takes us inside “Su’Kal.”
It’s not often we get to see you onscreen without makeup and prosthetics to transform you into a character. Then you get a script that has Saru looking human.
Doug Jones: Believe it or not, my makeup and hair process was about the same time. My Saru look goes on in about two hours, which is very fast for prosthetics. All the sculpting and painting has been done ahead of time, so getting them onto me and blended in takes about the same amount of time as the wig [for the human Saru holo]. I had to wear a wig because my head’s shaved for my makeup. There was some back and forth about, “Should we leave your head bald when you turn human?” I said, “I would actually love to have some hair.” I thought the wig look might also be a little bit more off-putting — [showing] something wasn’t quite right because it was a hologram — [and] the better look.
The way you carry yourself and your facial expressions had to be a bit different, but Saru is still Kelpien even though his appearance changed.
Right, that was the difficult part. I have played many humans over my 30-year career as well in things that people don’t know as much of, but this was different because I was playing the same character that looks like an alien day to day and now I still have to affect him looking like Doug Jones. I was a bit more nervous about this one — “I don’t know how to do that” — especially because my first line out is my heel is touching the ground. That changes my entire posture and walk so I still thought, “Well, if I can still try to glide like him when he walks but add some human to it…”
The speech pattern had to stay the same and more facial expression was showable because the silicone prosthetic makeup does hamper what I can do with my face on a day-to-day basis. Without that on, you’re seeing expressions that are actually happening underneath the mask on the regular.
Saru’s not the only one whose appearance changes; Michael and Culber’s do as well.
Sonequa and Wilson were also tickled pink with how fun it was to change up the look and be like, “oh my gosh, I’m a Trill,” “oh my gosh, I’m a Bajoran.” It was good, for their sake, they chose alien species that they could still be seen as themselves. They weren’t changing into Klingons. With the little enhancements and some changes you could still tell it was them. I think that’s why they saved my transformation for last because it was like, “what?!” when I came walking out of the snow.
There’s been this question of who should be captain, Saru or Michael. She gave him the chair but makes a very Captain-esque decision by telling him he has to stay with the child. How hard is it for him to know that it was the right move?
Burnham and Saru have such a brother-sister trust with each other. When Saru took the captain’s chair, it was with some hesitation because they were supposed to talk about it [and make] that decision together, and she just threw it at him really fast, much faster than he was expecting. He wanted to know why she seceded so quickly because they had reached a point in their relationship where they were rooting for each other.
When she has a suggestion for him, he’s going to listen to it. He trusts her decisions — not all of them, mind you, some are impetuous and go outside of protocols and regulations, where she goes rogue a little bit here and there. But when it’s a heart-to-heart decision like that, where she knows his personality, she knew what he was going through, he trusted she was the one person in the world that knew what he was feeling about seeing a Kelpien again, about his ties to home — he’s been tethered to Kaminar all this time in his heart — and he just had to say, “You know what, she’s right.” It’s like when you don’t want to hear [a family member’s] opinion, but you know they’re right.
Saru leaves Tilly (Mary Wiseman) in charge and says he has faith in her. What’s greater — his faith in her to lead while he’s gone or his need to be part of the party investigating this life sign?
It’s a combo of both. He really does trust her with the ship, of course. She’s proven herself time and time again to get Discovery out of a pickle, so anything that comes up, he knows she’ll be able to handle it.
That sweet moment of the Elder Kelpien holo and the lullaby for Saru is one of the few times we get to see Saru as something other than a commander.
Let’s remember: Saru has left his home world not once, but twice in his lifetime. He left to join Starfleet, being told he could never return again, then came back again to liberate his people and then jumping ahead to the future was, “Oh, we gotta say goodbye again.” I had to leave my sister one more time but knowing I left her in good hands and the Kelpiens and the Ba’ul are living in peace so my planet was doing fine.
So jumping ahead into the future, he hadn’t seen a Kelpien, he didn’t really know what became of them, what came of his home planet. He just heard they joined the Federation. That was really good news. I love that moment when the Admiral tells him — “They joined the Federation?” he says — so he’s hopeful there’s a place to go home to. He does really have a very strong tug for home. The older I get — I just turned 60 this year— that tug to home and nostalgia absolutely becomes more important, and Saru is graduating into that phase of life in a way.
What does the crew need to do to adapt to Georgiou’s (Michelle Yeoh) absence, especially since she’d be the perfect one to have around now that Osyraa (Janet Kidder) has taken the ship?
Right. You would love to see Osyraa and Georgiou go head-to-head, wouldn’t you?
What’s nice about this show is it reflects what we go through in real life and goodbyes and people leaving our lives, for whatever reason, is a thing that happens daily to all of us. We just have to carry on and use what we’ve learned from her, use her tenacity, her guts and her high-kicks, if we have to, to carry on because she did teach us well.
Adira (Blu del Barrio) made the jump to bring radiation meds to Saru and Culber, so assuming they’re all going to be OK, what’s next with those three?
Just remember: If Adira makes it all the way down into the Su’Kal ship, we’ve all changed into a holo something different, so there might be something fun in store for Adira as well.
Star Trek: Discovery, Thursdays, CBS All Access