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‘Star Trek: Picard’ interviews: Trek-alum Johnathan Del Arco & Isa Briones

Star Trek: Picard brings with it a mixture of characters both old and new to the world of Star Trek. One returning character is Johnathan Del Arco’s former Borg drone Hugh, who we sat down to chat with alongside newcomer Isa Briones, who plays the mysterious Dahj, a young woman who finds herself drawn to Picard in a moment of crisis.

The Next Generation started this conversation about personhood and human rights when it comes to the Bord, androids and synthetic lifeforms. I’m wondering in what ways is that conversation continued in Picard? 

Johnathan Del Arco: Oh I think in a very real way. I just shared something with Isa that I haven’t talked to too many people about and I was kinda saving it for the UK. With our storyline, without going too into the details, you do see Borg in a medical condition in the trailer, and I was struggling to figure out my relationship with her, my feelings towards her. I remembered a video clip of Princess Diana being the first Royal to visit an AIDS clinic. She refused to wear gloves, and as a gay man that was a pivotal moment for our community as people were afraid to touch gay people and people with AIDS. I found that clip on YouTube and I watched it and was so incredibly broken and moved and that sort of triggered my love for that character. So, that idea of humanity and to treat people with dignity is most definitely in our show.

Isa Briones: With Dahj, she’s going through something of an identity crisis, which is relatable as a 21-year-old girl who is kinda like ‘who the heck am I?’ A lot of it is figuring out the balance of what people are telling you are with who you feel you are, and who you want to be, and finding that identity for yourself and not letting other people put that restriction on you.

Del Arco: What’s wonderful about the inter-generational cast that we have is that having that character with her youth trying to figure that out and then having characters like myself and Picard seeing that in someone and being able to say ‘no, you’re as grand as Princess Diana, I see that in you, your actions tell me you’re that’, know? And I think that’s beautiful.

Did that kind of translate as a cast dynamic as well, the new people coming into the fold looking up to people like Johnathan to help guide you through the experience? 

Briones: Definitely. You can’t buy that kind of access into how this world works, especially with something as extreme as Star Trek, it’s such a specific thing. It’s not like they were talking down to us or anything, but it’s simply about watching them. Watching John, watching Patrick and just watching them be, that’s literally all you need. It’s a masterclass in travelling this franchise, and a masterclass as an actor and a human being, truly.

Del Arco: You do this job, you go and you act and do the best job that you can, there’s spaceships, great work etc. That’s all great. But 20-25 years later, I still go and talk about that role I played that long ago and I have fans who are children who have just watched it for the first time. Doing the job is only the beginning of this experience. I’ve always said that Star Trek is a lifestyle not a show, and that’s one of the things I tell the newer cast members, buckle up it’s going to be a wild ride, and a great ride at that. Our fans are pretty much the best fans of any show ever, I don’t say that to be cheeky, it’s true. They have supported my career in every way imaginable. Anything I ever do they’re there.

Briones: They don’t know who some of us even are yet. But even without knowing who we are, they have already shown us so much love and support, so you immediately get this sense of family as soon as you enter into this world. It’s a family within the cast and it’s a family with the fans.

For you John, you’re working with Patrick Stewart again 25 years later. What did you learn about Picard and Patrick during the shooting that you didn’t know previously? 

Del Arco: So much. 20 years ago I was still a kid. Age is a weird thing, there’s a point where your ages just kinda equalise and you’re suddenly both older gentlemen and you have a lot more in common. You’re both married, you have dogs, we both love Pitbulls. I got to get to know him so much more and in a much deeper way. That’s talking about Patrick, but sometimes Patrick and Picard can be a little hard to divide. I think he is the world’s Dad, and I think the world needs a leader or a Dad right now, even if it’s just on a television show. I was just so grateful to get to know him now, now as a grown man and getting to connect with him, he’s just one of my favourite people and I just really got to go there with my downtime with him. With Picard, his life resembles a little bit of Patrick’s. The ageing process, giving up of things, the finding of new things, the desire to go on a new adventure like Patrick’s going on a new adventure with the show. It’s symbiotic.

Were you ever cautious about the project going into it? 

Del Arco: Did I think it would happen? I had my doubts! I heard about the project before it was written, and a little bit before Patrick was on board. Even when he was on board, and when I was told I was coming back there was still a sense of doubt. It’s Hollywood, you can get a little skeptical. People in Hollywood, people change their minds all the time.

Can I ask you about your first day on set? 

Del Arco: My biggest feelings were at the table read. It was a surreal moment to be there. Brent Spiner is sitting next to me, and Patrick just walks in, hugs me and holds my face He does this wonderful speech and he takes out his communicator that he had on the show, he had it shipped from England so that everyone could touch it for good luck. It was just so unbelievable. The feeling of that first meeting of the cast was just very emotional.

Isa, it’s tricky to know what we can and can’t say about your character, but we catch a glimpse of your character and Harry Treadaway’s being romantically involved, what can you say about that?

Briones: Not a lot (Laughs). What I can say is that it’s a relationship that is very strong, very passionate, but one based in secrets and mistrust and deception. And that’s a tease enough, have fun with that!

With all the changes in technology since you were on the show in 90’s John, did it feel like a very different set than before? 

Del Arco: First of all, and Jeri Ryan talks about this, on Next Generation or Voyager you’d be clicking away at this piece of prop that was real but not. Now since the advent of the iPad, a lot of the stuff we did on those old shows is now real technology. But so many of the effects are now happening later, so we had to do a lot of hand waving. And they’d just say do whatever you want, and you do question that, but they just say we’ll add it later. So it’s basically mime.

Briones: After a couple of hours of shooting, you just look like you’re washing a window and you’re just thinking ‘this can’t look good!’ (Laughs). But then you watch the end product and it suddenly looks really good, how did they do that!?

Do you remember your first audition for the show? 

Del Arco: I do, vividly! I was new in LA, I had no furniture and I remember getting this audition. I had been at a premiere that night so I came home and read the script late and just heard his voice. As it turns out, that voice was the voice of my previous partner who had died from AIDS and had dementia. I don’t know why, but that was the voice I heard. It was the innocence, the wonder, and I was like, I know the voice I know who he is. So, I proceeded to walk around the room with a shaving cap on my eye to practice, and ironed a really starch white shirt and went to the audition. I was the most anti-social actor in the room. Rooms full of actors are usually quite chatty but I just shut down. I thought that ‘it’s it’s interesting that they’re all here to pretend to be a Borg when I am one.’ That was my mindset and that’s how I got the job. I was so sure of it, there was no question for me, back in 1992. Christian Slater was a really big Trekkie and I think he was originally asked to do it, but for some reason he couldn’t do it and it came my way. Sometimes roles just find you. When I first opened the page and I heard him, I have him. When I originally played the part, I was playing someone else, but playing the part now I’m playing myself, that’s a big difference. I’m using my own life.

Star Trek: Picard launches on Amazon Prime from January 24th, with each new episode dropping every Friday. 


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