Celia Rose Gooding is a woman of her time just like the iconic character she plays on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – Cadet Nyota Uhura.
“I’m really tapped in,” Gooding told The Nerds of Color last week. “I am someone very much of my generation. I would say I’m a bit chronically online as the saying goes.”
Gooding, like Uhura, is keen on communications and keeping up with the world around her. She is active on social media and stays up-to-date on all things Star Trek — including Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit. So to play the new communications recruit wasn’t a stretch for the actress.
Strange New Worlds, which premiered May 5 on Paramount+, centers Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) and his crew embarking on several missions abroad the U.S.S. Enterprise. Gooding plays the young communications officer, Nyota Uhura — best known as being played by Nichelle Nichols in Star Trek: The Original Series and by Zoe Saldana in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot. Of course, this is not the same Uhura that fans recognize, because this Uhura is a new cadet — fresh out of the Academy — and still trying to figure out her place in Starfleet. Gooding is excited to explore this side of Uhura that hasn’t been seen before.
“[For me] to really showcase that very human insecurity that I think more people have and [more] than we are often [willing to] admit, it was incredibly important to show this iconic character, who was so beloved in the franchise, as someone who wasn’t really sure in the beginning.” said Gooding. “[She] really had to dig deep [to] find that confidence within herself and to be uplifted by her crew, I think it was incredibly beautiful to establish that canonically.”
Of course, portraying an already established and beloved character didn’t come without its baggage. The recent Star Trek series have been met with some pushback from the older generation of fans who aren’t tuned in with current times and the way the future should be. Gooding is aware of this and doesn’t take any of the comments seriously. She’s living in the moment and is focused on doing what she believes is best for her character.
“There are people from all different walks of life and all different backgrounds who really enjoy the show and there are people with very different ideologies who watch the show, and sometimes may want Star Trek’s ideology to match their own,” Gooding explained. “They may not mesh and that may cause controversy, strife, and drama. But as long as my cast reminds me that as long as I stay true to myself and I’m proud of what I’m doing, I [will] keep going and continue to do what feels right and feels appropriate for this character and really make it my own.”
We chat more about what Uhura represents to her and Black women everywhere — including the topic of Black women’s hair, Uhura and Spock’s relationship, and what she hopes to see next season.
The Nerds of Color: This character is iconic — Nichelle was the first Black woman lead on television and she represents so much for Black women and women of color in the Star Trek world. She was still the only woman character in the J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films as well. There’s so much history from this character but you’re playing her at the beginning. There’s so much to add to her rich history. Is there something you really want to bring to her and her canon/history?
Celia Rose Gooding: Yes. We have incredible writers on the show and they are really giving us a wealth of information and a cornucopia of awesomeness. I wish I had a more elegant way to [say] it. But I think what we are doing with this character – giving young cadet Uhura an opportunity to really showcase the very human sides of her – the sides that may not be super confident about everything she’s doing and the sides of her who may need a bit of encouragement. It was incredibly important for me to really humanize this character. The social climate of the ’60s didn’t have that opportunity [for Uhura] to really be a full well-rounded human[with a backstory] and so to establish it in canon that she was someone who wasn’t really sure about her position in Starfleet and wasn’t really sure that what she could offer to the crew was worthy. [For me] to really showcase that very human insecurity that I think more people have and [more] than we are often [willing to] admit, it was incredibly important to show this iconic character, who was so beloved in the franchise, as someone who wasn’t really sure in the beginning. [She] really had to dig deep [to] find that confidence within herself and to be uplifted by her crew, I think it was incredibly beautiful to establish that canonically.
Because we do have some information from Star Trek: The Original Series and from the J.J. Abrams reboot, was there anything that you were excited to bring that was already established? We already got to hear you sing and other aspects of her personality. Is there anything that you were excited to bring that was from the canon?
Yeah, you touched on it. I have an opportunity to really show her performance side – her singing and dancing. Well, her singing and her movement. We don’t get a lot of dancing, but she carries herself well. To really flesh out her singing talents and her gift of song and how the math of music is something that she has an eye on, Uhura is brilliant. The Uhura that I’m playing doesn’t really know how truly brilliant she is. Because she’s lived with her intelligence for so long, she doesn’t take it as seriously as the franchise will in the future. So to really flesh out her brilliance and her brain and how that influences her performance and just the math of music, even as someone who’s a singer herself, I had no idea the music theory that [comes with it]. To have an opportunity to really flesh out something that we saw bits and pieces of in the original series, that was really cool.
I love that you kept your short hair — giving us another feel for Uhura and what she represents. It’s also a big deal with Black women. Was this something you discussed with your family or your team?
I shaved my head. Oh gosh, it feels like forever ago now. But I remember calling my agent and letting him know like, ‘Hey, I’m gonna shave my head just so you know. He was like, ‘Okay.’ I am incredibly lucky to have to work in a space that is really accepting of how I present myself and have a team that is incredibly supportive. They really roll with the punches with what I decided to do with myself. I auditioned with my short hair like this, and the team loved it. And there was a moment where they were very comfortable with me showing up and playing with my shaved head. They asked me, ‘Hey, do you want to wear a wig? Would you feel more comfortable wearing a wig?’ I was like, ‘No, I love my hair like this.’ Nichelle [Nichols] herself was someone who really advocated for the multifaceted presentation of Black women in Star Trek. She was someone who really championed the idea that there are so many different ways that Black women present themselves, and all of them are worthy in the future. She really advocated for the natural presentation of Black women in Star Trek. To have an opportunity to really continue that legacy and pass that torch down to 2022, it was an incredible opportunity. I’m so glad that it’s been so well-received.
As a longtime Star Trek fan, I’ve seen the prejudice and racism from the community towards women and People of Color. I know when Star Trek: Discovery was first introduced — the cast was met with unwarranted comments, but they had fans like us who supported the series 100%. Did any of the new series cast or creatives offer any advice on navigating this fandom and their treatment?
Oh yeah! I am someone very much of my generation. I would say I’m a bit chronically online as the saying goes. I think something that the cast told me when I [told them] I read everything on Twitter was to [not] take it too seriously. Everyone has an opinion. And, sometimes, some of them are a little harsher than others. Of course, continue to stay tuned in and really listen to the fans, but also don’t take everything they say personally, because this franchise is so loved. There’s such an incredibly vast audience. There are people from all different walks of life and all different backgrounds who really enjoy the show and there are people with very different ideologies who watch the show, and sometimes may want Star Trek’s ideology to match their own. They may not mesh and that may cause controversy, strife, and drama. But as long as my cast reminds me that as long as I stay true to myself and I’m proud of what I’m doing, I [will] keep going and continue to do what feels right and feels appropriate for this character and really make it my own. This character is so loved and so popular. I had a bit of anxiety about trying to personalize this character and really make it my own, but my cast [are] incredibly supportive and incredibly collaborative. I really do love this cast [as] family. They uplift and support me. It’s incredible how we work together. It’s an incredibly talented group — and incredibly diverse group of both look and mind. It’s been an incredible experience.
The series touches on a lot of deep subjects of prejudice, other-ism, loneliness — was there a topic that really hit close to you?
Of course. As a young person in the entertainment industry as someone who’s just getting started, I think [Uhura] having an opportunity to really showcase and spotlight those initial feelings of weariness [really] hit close to home. As someone who was still sort of figuring out their place in this industry, to play a character who was also doing the same was really cathartic. To sort of admit as a character of ‘I don’t know if this is what I’m cut out to do’ and while it may be where all of [her] talents lie, there’s still so many pieces of who I am that I’m still figuring out and still making sense of. So to play a character who’s sort of doing that same thing, it was incredibly therapeutic.
Based on the Kelvin timeline, Uhura and Spock have a thing. They do have a moment on the Enterprise. Is this something that was discussed or did they tell you not to worry about it?
In Strange New Worlds, I think something that was really highlighted especially in these first two episodes was Uhura and Spock’s friendship. I don’t know if it’s going to develop into anything romantic. I’m not sure. That wasn’t something that the writers spoke to me about directly. That wasn’t anything we ever really touched on. I think Spock and Uhura have an incredibly iconic friendship that was seen in TOS and to sort of continue that in Strange New Worlds, it’s incredible. I love Ethan Peck. He is someone who I really look up to and also really appreciate having a friendship with. Our characters, when we see them in Strange New Worlds, they have a lot of similarities. I think there are more similarities than they themselves even know. So that iconic friendship between the two of them really means a lot to me. The fact that, in the second episode [“The Children of the Comet”], we see Spock and Uhura really open up to him. We see Spock give her that affirmation and that support really meant a lot to me.
Strange New Worlds was given a second season before the series even premiered. Is there something you’d like your character to touch on the next season that we didn’t get to see this season?
We’re currently shooting season two right now. Today is my first day off in a minute, too. I think something that I’m excited to really showcase is just Uhura’s connection to the idea of community and family, what it means to belong, what it means to be a part of a crew that really feels like a family that really feels like a well-oiled machine and a really tight unit. I really am excited to touch on what that means to Uhura. We learn in the second episode that she lost her family in an incredibly traumatic situation. The idea of community and family is [an] incredibly sensitive and touchy subject for her. I think something I’m excited for season two is to sort of really heal and find something for Uhura to connect to and to put trust in this family and crew. So hopefully we’ll get more of an opportunity to sort of see how she values relationships and how she values herself as a member of this crew and as someone who is incredibly integral to how this family runs.
As a Trekkie from a family of Trekkies, is there an alien or piece of technology that you were most excited to see or interact with?
Honestly, it’s a credibly cliche, but as someone who comes from a Trek family, I was just so excited about stepping on the bridge and being able to see and be a part of that set that is so iconic. To have an opportunity to have the delta and just the iconic pieces of the tricorders, the communicators, and the phaser, [was incredible]. It was just the world building from our props department, costumes department, and sets department. They work so hard. It was just incredibly exciting to really establish myself and ground myself in this universe with these details that have been thought about so thoroughly. The attention to detail is impeccable and have a part of that to call my own. That was something that I was really looking forward to. And. as someone who was shooting season two, it’s something that I look forward to every day of being able to put on my costume and do the whole nine as someone who has a theater background. The world building is something that is incredibly important to being able to to characterize myself and really step into this character and play it fully. I think all of those pieces and details are so important. So I was really excited. I’m still very excited to sort of have that stuff. It grounds me as an actor and helps me do my job better. I am in awe of the team that we have and they really make it very easy for us to step into these characters and do them justice the way we have so far.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds streams on Thursdays on Paramount+.