Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni
In the concluding season of Paramount+ hit “Star Trek: Picard,” the USS Enterprise crew reunites for one last mission to save the galaxy – this time from matter-shifting Changelings who have invaded the upper ranks of Starfleet looking for revenge.
Retired Adm. Jean-Luc Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart) is called back to the bridge upon receiving a disturbing encrypted message from Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), whom he hasn’t seen in 20 years. He calls upon his former No. 1, Capt. Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) to “trick” the crew of the U.S.S. Titan – led by Capt. Liam Shaw (Todd Stashwick) and Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) – into taking them out to the edge of a star system to retrieve Beverly – and her son, Jack (Ed Speleers). The two Crushers are carrying secrets that draw the ire of Vadic, a Changeling who is captain of a massive, weapons-heavy ship called the Shrike.
At the same time, Starfleet has tasked Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) with finding and neutralizing related threats in crime syndicate-rich worlds not favorable to Starfleet. She teams with Lt. Cmdr. Worf (Michael Dorn) to identify the mastermind(s) behind a tragic attack on a training base.
“Star Trek: Picard” is a great template for modern-day streaming revivals. It honors the franchise canon while tweaking, reconciling and/or redeeming past missteps – usually those of the characters, but sometimes those of the showrunners, as well. It takes a classic car lovingly stored in the garage of time, and refurbishes it, making it road-ready and the envy of other drivers. This is accomplished by pairing interesting new characters with familiar old friends in rich storytelling, aptly making emotional connections with viewers.
Like “Star Trek: Discovery” – Paramount+’s first foray into this universe – “Picard” puts a favorable forward spin on an iconic franchise.
Perhaps no one knows this better than showrunner Terry Matalas and Stashwick. In the past decade, the two “Star Trek” fans have explored strange new worlds (on television), to seek out new life and new civilizations (and stop apocalyptic threats), to boldly go where no man has gone before – in creating really interesting science fiction, rife with imagery, theory and imagination. Their journey began on the superb “12 Monkeys,” which aired on Syfy from 2015-18.
Stashwick has come on board this season as a former engineer turned captain whose first interaction with the legendary Jean-Luc Picard was not favorable. In fact, the encounter was during a Borg attack that took the lives of 11,000 – including many of Shaw’s friends. Now jaded and unwilling to grant Picard any favors, Shaw finds himself unexpectedly thrust into a battle he’s not sure Starfleet can win.
The actor shared more in this edited Q&A.
Todd Stashwick stars in the Paramount+ original series “Star Trek: Picard.” (Photo credit: James Dimmock/Paramount+. © 2022 CBS Studios Inc. All rights reserved.)
Q: I want to know more about this so-called “dip$hit from Chicago.” We’ve seen your character be brave, we’ve seen him be logical. We’ve also, in his own words, seen @sshole become a substitute for charm. How would you describe the good Capt. Shaw?
Todd Stashwick: He's the finest captain in the history of Starfleet!
How would I describe him? He has a blue-collar grace to him. He has a really high bull$hit meter. And he is not afraid to call it out, when he sees it. I think he voices things.
There's an interesting way that he kind of comments almost on the “Star Trek” franchise, in ways, when he sees things; you know, when you're out in space and you're seeing absurd things, and there's insane things happening around you, he acknowledges that in a no-nonsense way. So, like I said, I think I see him as having kind of a blue-collar grace to him.
Q: I loved “12 Monkeys”; I thought it was wildly entertaining – and underrated at the same time. We are seeing elements of that show in this series – certainly more with the episode this week (Think: The Witness; Cole and Ramse). What makes Terry unique in this space, and what do you like about working with him?
Todd Stashwick: You know, I've made this comparison in the past – and he hates when I make it. But I think what I love about Terry – and I've compared him to Steven Spielberg – in that he, like Spielberg making “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” takes the things that gave him joy growing up; like Spielberg watching the old serials and James Bond films. The things that gave Spielberg joy, he then found a new, fresh way to put into his work in order to delight audiences.
I think Terry does the same thing; and it's very evident in “12 Monkeys.”
It also gives he and I a shorthand, because we are cut from the same nerdy cloth. He would walk up to me during “12 Monkeys” and go, “This is a Venkman take,” and I’d know exactly what he means. He's like, “Yeah, this is kind of like an Indiana Jones moment where he's (huffing and) kind of throwing things away.’ I’m like, “Got it. I know exactly what you mean.”
So, he is very much the sum of his influences, but then put through a very fresh, original lens.
Jonathan Frakes as Will Riker, Patrick Stewart as Picard, Gates McFadden as Dr. Beverly Crusher and Ed Speleers as Jack Crusher in "No Win Scenario"/episode 304 of “Star Trek: Picard” on Paramount+. (Photo credit: Trae Patton/ Paramount+. ©2021 Viacom International Inc. All rights reserved.)
Q: It's interesting you said, “Being cut from the same nerdy cloth.” Inasmuch as you’re a trained and successful professional actor, it’s still got to be something to be on a “Star Trek” set and working alongside Patrick, Jonathan, Jeri and the rest of the crew. Have you had a moment where you’re like, “This is amazing. What am I doing here?”
Todd Stashwick: Sure. I mean, I think that sort of legacy extends itself forward in the same way that I imagine the legacy of Kirk and Spock and McCoy had to have some effect on Jonathan when he first showed up to work (on “Star Trek: The Next Generation”). He's like, “Now I'm on a starship,” right? And now they create their own legacy.
And then I, having pretended to be a Starfleet captain since I was 6 years old with my Mego action figures, have that same experience of going, “Wow, I am a custodian of the legacy that started long before I got here. And what a treat. What a rare and wonderful treat this is.”
And then as an actor, to be given these wonderful, meaty scenes to be able to, instead of playing with action figures in a yard, I'm actually sitting across the table from the character that is Jean-Luc Picard. The amazing actor that is Sir Patrick Stewart.
It never got in the way, but it was never lost on me.
Michael Dorn as Worf and Michelle Hurd as Raffi Musiker in "Imposters"/episode 305 of “Star Trek: Picard” on Paramount+. (Photo credit: Trae Patton/ Paramount+. ©2021 Viacom International Inc. All rights reserved.)
Todd Stashwick as Capt. Liam Shaw, and Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine in "Imposters"/episode 305 of “Star Trek: Picard” on Paramount+. (Photo credit: Trae Patton/ Paramount+. ©2021 Viacom International Inc. All rights reserved.)
Q: As I said, you’ve been very successful at your craft. Still, I’m sure there are things that you can pick up from this cast. What have you learned from your costars, as it pertains to this business or to performance in general?
Todd Stashwick: Well, I think it's bigger than that. I think they have been wonderful ambassadors.
I remember I was going to shoot “The Ready Room With Wil Wheaton.” And just before I was going on, Michelle Hurd was leaving hers, and Michael Dorn was leaving their interview, and they both leaned over to me and they went, “Get ready. Are you ready?”
This is before it was released. And you have no idea what it means. And they were basically saying, you know, this is a job that extends far beyond the time that you spent on the soundstage. You are, as I said earlier, custodian of a legacy now. You're an ambassador to a franchise that means so much to people – and I understand that, because of how much it meant to me, and means to me.
And so, in the greater sense, they are the shepherds of showing me how to embrace and enjoy the ride of being now forever connected to this franchise. Watching how they interact with the fans gives me insight into the responsibility that I have.
Q: I’m sure you would be turned into Changeling goo if you revealed any spoilers. What can you safely say about the second half of this season?
Todd Stashwick: Buckle up – on a bridge that doesn't have seatbelts.
I can safely say it continues to build on a theme. It key-changes like a Jim Steinman song.
It just keeps going and going and going. It's so beautifully built on itself, and it's surprising and satisfying.
Q: You talk about what it means to be on “Star Trek” and the responsibility that comes with that. They have been cycling through your episode of “Psych” recently. I know you have quite an extensive history in comedy. You've made significant contributions now in sci-fi. What is the conversation these days with fans? I'm sure a lot of them are talking about “Star Trek,” certainly. But “Star Trek” notwithstanding, what are some of the things that fans ask you about more often than not these days?
Todd Stashwick: Well, they always want to know what it was like to work with Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. And now they always want to know what it was like to work with Sir Patrick Stewart. Those are the big, common questions. What's it like to be a fan of this stuff, and then also be part of making it is a common question. Those are always the headline questions.
•New episodes of "Star Trek: Picard" debut Thursdays on Paramount+.
Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard of the Paramount+ original series “Star Trek: Picard.” (Photo credit: Joe Pugliese/Paramount+. © 2022 CBS Studios Inc. All rights reserved.)