“Star Trek” has a long history of unexpected guest performers, from Iggy Pop and Dwayne Johnson to Stephen Hawking and King Abdullah II of Jordan.
In its Season 4 finale, “Star Trek: Discovery” has added to that idiosyncratic hall of fame with the household name who plays the president of United Earth: voting rights champion and once and current candidate for Georgia governor, Stacey Abrams.
Abrams’ scene is the culmination of a two-season arc on “Discovery,” which began in Season 3 when the crew of the titular starship travel nearly 1,000 years into the future and discovered that the United Federation of Planets is in tatters, and Earth is no longer a member. In Season 4, after Capt. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and her crew save humanity’s home world from total destruction, the president of Earth arrives on the Federation’s starbase to declare her planet is ready to rejoin the Federation again.
“We always knew that Earth returning would be a big, big moment, and coming into Season 4, we knew that was going to happen in the finale,” says executive producer Michelle Paradise, who also wrote the episode. “As we started to look ahead to the finale, we realized we are going to need a face for this moment, someone to represent Earth.”
Paradise and her writers room recalled interviews in which Abrams had happily declared herself a diehard “Trek” fan, so much so that she binge-watched “Discovery” during her 2018 campaign for governor in Georgia.
“When the time came to start talking about the president of Earth, it seemed like, ‘Well, who better to represent that than her?'” says Paradise. After the writers came up with the idea in early 2021, Paradise says she texted executive producer Alex Kurtzman to ask what he thought. “The number of exclamation marks that came back was just phenomenal.”
So they reached out to Abrams, who happily got on a Zoom call with them to hear out their pitch, but only on the condition that they didn’t spoil what happens in Season 4 — only what would be required of her in the scene. “She was very specific about that,” says Paradise. “She wanted to be able to just watch it and enjoy when the show finally came out. So, yeah, we avoided all the spoilers.”
Abrams, of course, said yes, and spent a few days in August at the Toronto soundstages where “Discovery” shoots to go through costume fittings, tour the set, and film the scene for the finale.
“We were fanning out the whole time, just trying to cover it up, trying to be cool,” says Martin-Green. “We adopted her so fast. We were like, ‘You’re “Star Trek” family forever now.'” (Abrams, who announced her candidacy for governor of Georgia in December, was not available to be interviewed for this story.)
Both Paradise and Martin-Green say they were impressed by how naturally the politician and activist took to her role, and only learned after shooting that Abrams had acted and directed plays both at her performing arts magnet high school in Georgia (formerly Avondale High School, now called the Dekalb School for the Performing Arts) and Spelman College. That experience certainly helped, given that Abrams’ role was written to be more than just a two-line stunt.
“We never wanted it to be a cameo — it was a proper role,” says Paradise. “There’s just something that made us think, ‘Well, of course she can do it.’ And she did. She just blew us away.”
“She was just so comfortable with what she was doing, and knew exactly how to be and where to go and everything,” adds Martin-Green. “I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.”
Having one of the most prominent Black women leaders in the country appear on the first “Star Trek” series to star a Black woman was particularly meaningful to Martin-Green, especially given that the other major character in their scene — General Ndoye, played by Phumzile Sitole (“Orange Is the New Black”) — is also a Black woman.
“I was taken aback by it, and really moved by it,” Martin-Green says. “It really signaled the culmination of the season having her there, because she’s such this symbol of hope and strength and connection and sacrifice and building something bigger than yourself that will last generations, and that’s exactly what we’re talking about doing in the story.” Martin-Green says she and the cast presented Abrams with an honorary trophy, captain’s badge, and a poem to commemorate her appearance on the show. “That was a cherished moment.”
Given Abrams’ current political responsibilities, Paradise doubts she will show up again as the president of United Earth — who, it seems, was never given a name.
“I think right now, she’s just the president of Earth,” Paradise says. “President Stacey — we’ll go with that.”