Dawnn Lewis does it all. Acting, voice acting, musicals, and more. And she can add Starfleet Captain to the list with her role as Captain Carol Freeman of the USS Cerritos. She’s a no nonsense captain who unfortunately has a lot of nonsense to deal with from her crew, including her own daughter Beckett, who may cause the most trouble of the bunch. Ahead of the Season 2 Premiere this Thursday, August 12, we at The Nerds of Color were able to speak with Lewis on how she approaches the role of Captain Freeman, her voice-acting career, what we can expect for her and Beckett’s mother-daughter dynamic, and the prospect of returning to Broadway for the musical Tina.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Star Trek has inspired countless fans through the decades with its various messages over the years and I’m wondering for you, through voicing Captain Carol Freeman of the Cerritos, and just generally how has the franchise inspired you?
Wow, well I am one of those people that was a Star Trek baby. When it first came on, I was in love with the hopefulness, of the diversity of the future before diversity was even something that people were talking about it, when it wasn’t a word that people commonly use. But here it was on television, people of different nationalities from different cultures, from different genders, from different species, all working together and the ultimate goal was to have a federation where we all supported and work together and protected each other, and sought out the best for who we could be and anybody that we encounter, and everybody they worked at a level of excellence.
On Lower Decks, the difference for me between our show, and any of the other Star Trek franchises, is some of us aren’t even trying to do our best. Some of the people on the Cerritos are really doing everything they can to get the most out of as little as possible, which just speaks to, I think in certain ways, who we’ve become as a society, where everybody wants everything right now quick fast. What is the shortcut. What is the easiest way to get whatever done? What he crew of the series does is so flawed, yet, with such good intentions, which is something that we didn’t often see on any of those other franchises of Star Trek, because everybody was so on top of their game, all of the time. We are not that. We are the underdogs We are the flawed but fearless crew of the Cerritos, and there’s just such a human and transparent element to our little gang of comrades that I love that it lets you know it doesn’t matter how flawed you are you can still be used. You can still serve a purpose and excel in your lane, even though it takes you a little longer to get there.
Yeah, absolutely, and that kind of leads me to my next question because Captain Freeman is someone who takes her role as Captain very seriously and she wants to be taken more seriously by Starfleet, but unfortunately the crew, including her own daughter Beckett, don’t take it as seriously. So what’s it like voicing the steadfast Captain who’s trying to hold the Cerritos together?
It’s incredibly frustrating because you envision yourself as this very specific, very particular very excellence-oriented person having to work with, like The Little Rascals, basically. And as much as I can say whatever I need to say to my crew, but no one can come to me and tell me a bad thing about my crew. I will defend my crew to the bitter end because at the end of the day, whatever bumps and bruises we take getting where we have to go, we get the job done, and we do it well, and that’s why I will defend them at all costs. And to be honest with you, before Beckett showed up, I bought I ran a pretty tight ship, and her being there just really pull back the lid on all of what was not going well, that apparently I was just really not aware of and I think that disappoints her as well. That for somehow she was able to mislead herself as to the level of excellence that she was always purporting that her crew embodies. So now she’s got to do what she can to whip them into shape so that her testimony of them actually matches their performance level.
That also leads me to another question about Beckett. Without giving too much away for Season 2, how does Captain Freeman’s relationship with her daughter develop? And speaking on the representation front, why is it so significant in this franchise to have such a prominent Black mother-daughter relationship in began in this series Star Trek, and really just generally?
Well, that’s a great question. In season one you saw us continually bump bumping heads and trying to do it in a clandestine manner because Captain Freeman didn’t want anyone to know that the biggest screw up on her ship was her own child, and Beckett didn’t want anyone to know that the captain was her mother is because, you know, she wanted the freedom to continue to be rebellious to go against the grain to be this cutting edge, “I’m going to do what I want the way I want, how I want” person, even though she knows better. It’s almost like a preacher’s kid. You know, sometimes the preacher’s kid is the wildest child in the church, even though they know better. It’s like, what are you doing? You are trying to do everything you can to undermine the authority and the principles that you know, preacher parent is trying to get everyone else to follow. Beckett is kind of that kid.
So in Season 2, now that the cat’s out of the bag. Everybody knows that we are related. Now, so it puts a certain charge on them to try to do better, because now eyes are on them, and I don’t think that they’re totally appalled by that idea because I think there’s a part of them that really wishes their relationship could be better, and you see them in Season 2, making efforts to see what they can do to meet each other where they are, or at least halfway. Relationships like that I think are vital and important, because I think it’s important for young people to recognize and see and respect their parents in roles of authority and all that they have been able to accomplish before them, so that they’re setting a path not not that you have to be me, but just understand what has been sacrificed in order for you to be you, and treat that with regard and respect. I don’t think we get to see that enough in households of color, definitely not in animation or in the entertainment industry, so I’m excited to be a part of this.
You’re a prolific voice actress, in the industry for over 30 years, having been on Futurama, The Simpsons, Rick and Morty, Carmen San Diego and so much more like you’re really building, you’re becoming a really prolific voice actor, or you’ve been for several years now, so I’m curious what are some of your favorite roles and how is Captain Freeman compared to them.
My very first one was the Kid ‘n Play cartoon where I play the teenager in the inner city team, and then I did another one called Cool Like that Christmas where I played a seven-year-old boy. Over the years, now I do Apple & Onion, there’s a new series coming out called Karma’s World, and I get to be very, very different people in each one. There was a series I did with Tom Loke called Seabear and Jamal, and George Wallace played the grandfather, I played about four or five different voices everything from a six-year-old kid to the kid’s teacher to their great grandmother. That was just a lot of fun because of the variety.
Captain Carol Freeman is someone who I think is so timely for right now, When we’re talking about inclusion, when we’re talking about diversity, when we are talking about giving people their just due, we have an African American woman as our Vice President, we now have in Captain Carol Freeman an African American woman as captain of a starship. Madge Sinclair, in one of the other Star Trek franchises was also the captain. And Sonequa Martin-Green is one now in Star Trek: Discovery, she’s making her way through. So seeing women of color in these roles of authority and leadership and doing it well and being respected for it and honored for and challenged through it, I think is really really powerful to be a part of that live lineage, particularly where we are in history and society right now.
Absolutely agreed, it’s so, so important to see that increasingly in media to reflect the real world as well. Hopefully in both increases rapidly. So I actually just have one other question for you. You are also a Broadway performer, really you do it all. And it was just recently announced at the Tina Turner musical will be returning to Broadway soon. So we’ve had a very interesting year, to say the least, especially for the live-action arts, which have suffered so much, but now Broadway is returning and like to ask you, how’s it feel to return to, to the stage after the past year that we’ve had?
I’m looking forward to it. I really am. We were literally on our way to the theater when we started getting emails and text messages saying that there would be no show that night. If you need anything out of your dressing room the theater will be open until five o’clock. We will see you again in three weeks, that’s when we thought it was just going to be three weeks, and we see what three weeks has turned into a year and a half. There were shows that were set to open that night, SIX was one of those shows. Thursday night was to be their opening night, they were in the theater, already having tech rehearsal and the kids were excited about what they were going to wear for their big opening night party and all the people that were going to come. It was like a Twilight Zone culture shock for everything to immediately and so thoroughly just shut down.
When we went back to the theater, a couple of months later to get some personal items out, wardrobe was just sitting on the floor. Ready for laundry for the next performance, everything was just dropped right where we left it after our last show. So now a year and a half later to go back the recording industry and film and television have gone through a lot of lengths to make actors safe with all kinds of COVID protocols and standards that have to be met in order for us to be protected. We want to work but we want to work safely. The theater has also been doing that. They’ve been preparing upgrading ventilation systems, all kinds of things, going back to work is going to be very different because being on a live stage is very personal. It’s very intimate. Some of those.
A lot of our cast is three to five people in one dressing room. There’s only a handful of us that have our own dressing room, but you are on top of each other You’re singing and dancing and acting in writing each other’s faces for three hours a night, the band everybody we are there so there’s absolutely no way for us to do a show with masks on or socially distanced, so you’re really relying on everyone to be responsible, to be honorable, to be safe to be healthy. In order for us to do what we love so much. So, as excited as I am to be going back. I am a little cautionary in my spirit, to really hope that the audience and the crew and the performers and everybody involved does their absolute best to be safe so that we can freely, get back to being the creative spirits that we truly have worked so hard to be and desire to be.
Absolutely. Well, I wish you and the rest of the cast and crew to please stay safe and secure and healthy. Thank you so so much for speaking with The Nerds of Color today, this was fantastic and I can tell you like what I’ve seen so far of Lower Decks, has been fantastic, including in Season 2, and we all love like Captain Freemen and can’t wait for more!
Thank you so much! I really appreciate that, and it’s been a pleasure speaking with you!
New episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks start releasing on Paramount+ on August 12 and every following Thursday.