There are many mysteries in the “Star Trek” universe. One of them was explained on Thursday night at the season two premiere party for “Star Trek: Discovery” in New York when showrunner Alex Kurtzman revealed the backstory of how Tig Notaro found her way onto a spaceship in the role of brilliant engineer Jet Reno.
Turns out, Kurtzman and Notaro have worked together before — more than 20 years ago when both were employed as assistants for filmmakers Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert at the duo’s Renaissance Pictures banner in Los Angeles.
“She answered phones and I answered phones,” Kurtzman told Variety during the after-party at the Conrad Hotel.
The two stayed friends over the years and he had her in mind when the Reno character was crafted for season two.
“I thought, ‘It has to be Tig,’ ” he said. He’s gratified to see her performance — a departure for the comedian — generate such buzz in the early reviews for “Discovery’s” sophomore session.
“Discovery” went through a big behind-the-scenes transition between seasons one and two. Kurtzman took on showrunning duties after Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts exited amid allegations of abusive behavior and other concerns. Kurtzman co-created “Discovery” and is charged with steering the entire “Star Trek” universe at a high level. But he hadn’t planned to take the day-to-day reins until duty called.
“The intensity of the adjustment was mitigated by the love that was there for everybody” on the show, Kurtzman said. “I had a tremendous responsibility to live up to that.”
Given the show’s importance to CBS All Access, a third season renewal for “Discovery” is a fait accompli. Kurtzman said he intends to stick around as showrunner but he will also recruit a co-leader to help him manage the load as he also juggles other “Star Trek” projects.
“I feel such a debt to the cast and drew of this show — I don’t feel like I can leave it,” Kurtzman said. With post-production of season 2 of “Discovery” nearly complete, Kurtzman is turning his immediate focus to the limited series that will revisit the character of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, played by Patrick Stewart.
“The writers’ room has spent a lot of time giving really deep thought to how do we meet fans’ expectations and how do we defy them entirely,” Kurtzman said. “That’s a really tough thing to do.”
“Discovery” star Sonequa Martin-Green echoed Kurtzman’s sentiment about feeling the weight of “Star Trek’s” long and proud legacy in her work. A show that presents a hopeful vision of a multicultural future is an important message, in any era.
“That is enervating to me. It makes me want to do better as a human being,” Martin-Green told Variety. “It causes me to want to rise up and be better because I feel like I need to live up to the story that we’re telling.”