James Frain on Inheriting the Role of ‘Sarek’ for STAR TREK: DISCOVERY

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We continue our ongoing Star Trek: Discovery Comic-Con coverage with another new interview, this time with the series’ resident Vulcan, actor James Frain – taking over for Mark Lenard as Ambassador Sarek.

TrekCore contributor Sam Darragh of the Trekkie Girls was our roving reporter at yesterday’s press junket, and she caught up with Frain to chat about his character and his desire to both pay tribute to Lenard’s original performance, but to also make this Sarek his own.

TREKCORE: Sarek has almost two rather different characters from different timelines. How much creativity have you had in creating your own Sarek, and how much do you think is drawn from the previous two [Mark Lenard and Ben Cross]?

FRAIN: Well, I feel a great sense of responsibility to Mark Lenard’s performance because he was the first to establish the character, and did such a fantastic job. So, I had him very much in mind but I also felt like, we change so much in our lives.

[Mark Lenard’s performance is] where he ends up, but he’s lived for 200 years. So who was he 50 years, or 100 years before that? Like, who is this guy who marries a human being, when humans have an emotional culture, and Vulcans believe that emotion causes war?

It simply has to be repressed, because it’s dangerous, yet here he is, playing with danger – that seems to me to be kind of exciting… and kinda sexy, dare I say it!

Revealed in yesterday’s SDCC panel was the surprising news that not only does Sarek take an active role in Michael Burnham’s (Sonequa Martin-Green) life, but in fact he is portrayed as an adoptive father in Star Trek: Discovery — and like you, we’re eagerly awaiting how the writers fit this new twist into the Trek history we all know and love.

  • Quintillion Tesla

    I love what Frain is saying about Sarek. WIll be great to see how much of this wonderful character we explore in DSC.

    I note that there have certain other websites that have been claiming in their headlines and online posts that Burnham is “Spock’s half-sister”, no doubt clickbaiting for some hits. Being raised, or sponsored by Sarek does not make Burnham a “half-sibling” ( like Sybok ), but as “Foster sister” at best.

    Keep up the great work Trekcore, I’m loving these cast interviews.

    • James

      Yeah, there are a lot of people saying that Spock cannot have had an adopted sister. He was a pretty private guy, so I don’t have a problem with it, so long as it is handled well.

      • Quintillion Tesla

        Yeah, we never saw Spock’s childhood in TOS or the Original movies ( TAS – Animated Series -excluding ).

        And it even came as a shock to Kirk in ST5 who happened to know Spock doesn’t have a brother, to which Spock answers “Technically you are correct – I have a HALF-Brother”.

        For some reason, I get the impression that Burnham’s relationship to Sarek is a very complex one, and perhaps strained to some degree.

        • M33

          You were formerly Biflash, yes?

          • Quintillion Tesla

            Yep, I’ve been meaning to change my handles for ages. My original “name” was a spur of the moment placeholder that stuck for too long anyway.

      • TUP

        The line that the whiners cling too is the mis-spoken “we know Spock having a step-sister is not canon”.

        Firstly, its a mistake (one that got repeated widely including on Space’s website where they said Michael was Amanda’s bio daughter), she is an adopted child.

        But Spock’s best friend didnt even know Spock had a brother until he showed up in Star Trek 5. Knowing Spock, he’d run into Michael and coldly say it is agreeable to see her. Michael would hug him and say “is that all you have to say to your big sister” and Spock would coldly retort “it is very agreeable to see you”.

        But we dont know if there is an issue between Spock and Michael.

        Maybe Spock envied Michael. Maybe Uhura reminded him of her lol

  • DC Forever

    Do we dare hope that at least on these series of actor interviews that Trekcore is providing, that those handful of posters who are just so negative will not feel the need to bring all of their predetermined “this is crap” to these great little features stories?

    Never before have so few said so much. It’s kind of spoiling the excitement for the vast majority of fans.

    • Quintillion Tesla

      Absolutely spot on,

    • The Science Fiction Oracle

      Hear, hear — EXACTLY!

    • Dan King

      Why would posters who disagree with the direction of the show and the premise spoil the excitement for you? If you truly believe in the show, what others say would not matter.
      I think deep down all of the people already priaising the show universally before they have seen it are in deep denial. This is not really want they wanted, but are ashamed to admit it. So they go all in on a show they really never wanted because they have nothing else. It’s really sad.

      The brace fans who speak up to defend the legacy get attacked, but it is those fans who give the franchise legs.

      • Eric Cheung

        If people praising before they see it are in denial, so too must those damning it. To speculate that this it not what someone else really wants is basically projection. I wouldn’t presume to assume anyone else’s taste, nor judge them for it.

        I’m looking forward to checking the show out and seeing if I like it then.

      • Ace Stephens

        If you truly believe in the show, what others say would not matter.

        I don’t believe that to be the case. I can enjoy (or dislike) something and still find people who seem to go out of their way to trash (or even support) it at the expense of reason to be frustrating and deflating.

        Certainly I don’t consider any fans dogs (so this is not meant to be literal in much of any form) but, as an analogy, a yapping guard dog that refuses to ever quiet – even when there’s no threat – is a poor guard dog. A guard dog that doesn’t bark – even when there’s a clear threat – is a poor guard dog. The issue, to drop out of the analogy a bit, is whether there’s merit to the praise/condemnation…

        And far too many seem willing to show up time after time in order to supply either without direct cause.

      • Snap

        It’s not that the negativity from what others may say could affect the excitement and enjoyment of the show, but it has a seriously detrimental effect on the overall vibe of a discussion forum on the topic.

        I happen to strongly disagree that those who are “praising the show universally” are in any sort of denial, otherwise the same could be argued for those who are universally panning it before they have seen it. I may not agree with a given commenter about certain aspects of Discovery, but if that person happens to have nothing critical to say at all, I have no reason to believe that they are just trying to convince themselves about how good the show will be.

        Sure, there have been some resistance to fans who have a more passionate argument for how they feel various aspects of Discovery should be handled, but I dare say we could all be a bit more accommodating in our debates and show more respect to those with differing opinions.

        Just saying “This is crap” isn’t defending the legacy in any way. A reasonable and well thought-out critique would go a whole lot further than just attacking the production and the people who have positive things to say about it.

    • Pedro Ferreira

      There’s an ignore button mate.

      • There is? Where? I see only “Reply” and “Share,” but there’s someone I’d love to ignore.

        • There should be a “Block User” function next to each post, where you may select to ignore the user in question.

          • Oh, under the little arrow thingy, way out at the right. Thanks so much for telling me that; there’s someone who’s been a broken record and whose negativity has been really getting me down.

        • Pedro Ferreira

          Really who?

  • M33

    I’m sure he’ll do a great job.
    Ben Cross, as brief as his tenure as Sarek was, did a great job, too.

    Always enjoy your direct interviews, TrekCore.

  • D. C. Fontana said that the Generation Gap was a big deal in the real world at the time she wrote “Journey to Babel,” so she wanted to bring that in and have it be a feature of Spock’s relationship with his father. But if you think about it, Sarek has to be a wild risk-taker — for a Vulcan, of course 🙂 — to have married a human in the first place. So the son who ends up in Starfleet is actually a lot more like his father than either of them seems to realize.

    It sounds as if Frain is playing up that aspect of Sarek’s character, and that’s a fresh and different portrait of the character, and yet it’s absolutely supported by a thoughtful look at canon.

    I can’t wait for this; it sounds as if it’ll be extremely interesting!

    • TUP

      I wrote a long diatribe about Sarek above lol but yes, I agree. He’s a very interesting character.

      They just have to be careful and resist the urge to “reform” Sarek in the Discovery series before that sense of redemption we see unfold naturally over the TOS series and films time where his unemotional statements to Kirk and Spock actually show us a man with very deep love and respect for his son and his friends.

  • David Zane Taylor

    I think it’s excellent casting in this role specifically and on the entire series in general. I cannot wait to see how this unfolds.

  • Daniel Shock

    I am getting very interested in this show. I hope it’s great.

  • Dan King

    This is crap

    • Dan, you are coming very close to spamming our articles with this similar refrain on nearly every article, often multiple times.

      • Dan King

        This is the first time I said simply “this is crap”

        Every post I make is unique and different.

        • TUP

          You dont know what unique and different means then. All your posts are the same.

      • DC Forever

        Trekcore, thank you for addressing this. I, for one, have talken your recent warning to heart and have tried to improve my civility here, but it’s difficult sometimes to deal with someone who write up to 50 negative sniping posts per day to try to “dominate the board.”

        FYI. Look on this page and see the incredibly gross comment this poster just made about Sarek and Michael having father-daughter carnal relations. This was posted AFTER your warning to him. I’m also using your web function to alert you of that post.

        Thanks for your outstanding coverage of Discovery!

        • TUP

          I agree. I love debates but the few vocal negative types who are clearly trolling are getting old. I realize its an online gimmick but you’d think they’d have something better to do.

          There are some great posters with different opinions but the few that are simply trolling are quite obvious. And its annoying.

        • Dan King

          Why is it gross? They are not blood related. Fuller wanted to push the limits with this show and they can do anything they want on streaming.
          Their warning was to not repeat the same thing over and over. My suggestion that perhaps Sarek and Micheal were secret lovers protects canon and explains why Spock never mentioned her.

        • Being addressed. For those of you who have turned things around from previous warnings, we appreciate it.

  • Dan King

    Well, he was coached enough to ignore the Sarek in the Kelvin universe at least

  • “I married your mother because I loved her.” –Sarek. … In the kelvin timeline.

    • TUP

      Sarek is very interesting. I really disliked how he was portrayed in the JJ films because I thought it was 1) disingenuous to the character we know 2) too convenient for the story the films told 3) less dramatic than playing it closer to the established.

      Its hard to buy Nero changed Sarek’s personality (prior to the planet being destroyed). But I guess you never know. But when he told young Spock he will have a choice to make and was really very nice as a father, it rang untrue to me. Especially because later in the film, he was the one that snapped Spock out of his rage. A very parental thing.

      I guess the writers’ intent was that the reason Sarek and Spock were estranged was because Spock embarrassed him when he rejected the Science Academy. But that was somewhat lame.

      They should have had Sarek tell a young bullied Spock that if he tried harder to be a Vulcan and repress his human side, he’ll go farther in life – decidedly poor fatherly advice. That would plant the seed in Spock that his father rejected him. And set up Spock rejecting his father years later as a much more satisfactory moment than Spock having a passionate moment if telling the Vulcans’ to essentially F off for insulting his mom.

      Then, when they are on the ship together, Sarek realises that he is partially to blame for why Spock chose Star Fleet, why he is dating a human, why he has trouble controlling his emotions and gives him the fatherly speech where he admits he loved his mother – essentially saying he loved her BECAUSE she was human, not in spite of it.

      But anyway, we cant really consider much from the JJ film because it was after Nero’s arrival.

      But why Sarek would support Michael and reject Spock is an a question left to be answered. I only hope we dont see a redemption of Sarek as a parent BEFORE it happened in the TOS films, where he came to understand Spock and respect his choices and friends.

      But its certainly interesting. He married a human. Okay, we can infer he thought it would help him with his very important work. But we also know that was a cop out, a defense mechanism. He was likely ostracized to a degree for that choice. So he had an excuse – it was logical. The reality is, it was logical because he loved her.

      He married a second human woman. So we know he liked emotional human women.

      And yet, he was so angry with Spock for choosing Star Fleet. Did he feel Spock was making the mistakes he made? The mistake of following his heart instead of his head? Was he embarrassed his son turned against the Vulcan ways (especially after Sybok)?

      Was Sarek’s mentorship of Michael part of what strained Spock/Sarek’s relationship? Perhaps Sarek demanded more of Spock than of Michael. Perhaps he supported her decisions because he was honoring the wishes of her dead parents.

      Perhaps Sarek was less respected among Vulcan’s then we think. After all, he is Ambassador to the Federation. Maybe he was originally Ambassador to Earth, a position potentially seen as not a great one. He married a human woman. Has a half human son. Has another son who goes rogue. Adopts a human child.

      And the Sarek we know makes excuses for this but as we come to know, its because he’s more sentimental than he lets on. He makes choices out of love and respect, something he, perhaps, comes to appreciate due to his work with humans. But he walks the tightrope because of needing to maintain a certain image on Vulcan.

      Regardless, Sarek is a very very interesting character.

      We can assume there is a reason they need Michael to be the “adoptive” sister of Spock. And I respect Kurtzman admitting that doesnt adhere to canon (it doesnt violate it either) but if they really want to respect canon, why not simply make her a foster sister, which would be all the more understandable that we’d never heard of it?

      Hopefully the reason is explained.

      • Dan King

        Perhaps Sarek and Michael shared a “special” daddy-daughter relationship?

        • TUP

          Your insinuation is wildly inappropriate. Really, grow up.

          • DC Forever

            Gross and completely unacceptable for this forum.

          • TUP

            Some people just seem self destructive, even after warned, like they *want* an imposed vacation.

          • Dan King

            Why is it gross? They are not blood related.

          • Dan King

            Why? They are not blood related

      • Ace Stephens

        Its hard to buy Nero changed Sarek’s personality (prior to the planet being destroyed).

        You and I may have discussed this before long ago but I still feel that Nero’s impact on the timeline is not solely progressing forward. Any future time travel to the past – assuming it occurs within the timeline itself…rather than by crossing into an alternate universe…which much of Trek’s appears to – could differ in its participants/outcome and have ripple effects. So whenever someone suggests that this or that thing would never have possibly differed beforehand, I find it somewhat odd as I don’t know how the events of whatever this timeline’s equivalent of First Contact is play out (or any other time travel story). I don’t know if it leads to this one party being here rather than there and someone else varying in placement but winding up in the exact same position in the long run or whatever else.

        I just find it odd that, because Nero’s appearance was the point from which these differences arise, people think nothing in the past was altered as a (probably long-term, ironically) result of it.

        • TUP

          I’d be open to that as something to explore.

          But to be honest while we know multiple universes exist, it’s somewhat traditional that Star Trek can time travel back and forth in its own time line without creating a new universe.

          Orci and Co. changed this because they wanted to. And honestly I’m not even sure they needed to. Nothing they did really precluded the idea that Spock could go back to his time.

          We all argue over canon but to me that little change was the most glaring canon alteration. And it made Trek worse off. Mostly because of how the writers used it. They claimed it freed them from canon yet they wielded fan servicing Easter eggs and full scenes like a blunt object.

          I’d be fine either ignoring JJ films altogether (minus Kelvin) or hoping the rumour is true and a 4th film fixes everything.

          • Ace Stephens

            But to be honest while we know multiple universes exist, it’s somewhat
            traditional that Star Trek can time travel back and forth in its own
            time line without creating a new universe.

            I’m not sure if you’re following me so well that you’re talking ahead of me (which may, in fact, be probable) or if I didn’t state something clearly or what. My whole point is that they are usually in their own timeline. That, in the case of the Kelvin Timeline, they broke through to a differing universe that was on the same exact trajectory (which is why we have a differing universe and a break from canon). Following that, if anybody travels back in time in this continuity, they are altering the past of the Kelvin timeline in most instances – which keeps entirely with the way such matters were usually handled.

            That’s what I’m pointing out. People say, “Sulu wasn’t gay!” and “Khan wasn’t white!” and all these things – suggesting that this timeline changed regardless of Nero’s arrival – and I say, “How do we know that it wasn’t changed because of Nero’s arrival still?” And most wind up shrugging off the suggestion or saying it isn’t what those behind it seemed to mean or even that it happened before so it couldn’t have (which I’m pointing out is false) or stuff like that.

            But a differing universe, when the presumed laws of physics dictate that one travels within one’s own in the vast majority of time travel cases, would certainly have differences prior to any “universe-incursion” as a result of future time travel in that second universe (if time travel is possible/discovered there). The idea being that their universe has always been how it is but would have been (and therefore never was since it must always be the case) different if it weren’t for Nero’s arrival.

            Similar to how Enterprise picks up the pieces of First Contact and the like – also referencing the events involving others (if I recall correctly…an allusion to the exact events of the film) – even while taking place in the timeline before First Contact. The universe is what it is either way but that doesn’t mean that something from outside of it didn’t make it that way or something inside of it didn’t, later on from now, make what was.

            …This is kind of headache-inducing. I apologize.

    • Dan King

      Kelvin timeline is not prime canon

      • PICARD: He loves you very much.
        PERRIN: I know. I have always known.

        (TNG: “Sarek”)

        • The Science Fiction Oracle

          Yep, that the first scene that popped to my mind as well on this.

          It is prime canon.

      • Eric Cheung

        Both Sareks married Amanda before the Narada incursion.

  • Pedro Ferreira

    I never thought of Sarek as sexy, ooohh missus! Oh James Frain, I wish I hadn’t first seen you in 24, you might be a great actor but in 24 your character and acting was so bland.

  • Snap

    At first, I have to say I wasn’t sure how James Frain would be as Sarek, but I imagine that primarily knowing Frain as Theo Galavan from Gotham has affected that. As with Leonard Nimoy and Spock, you’re not going to easily find someone who bears a strong resemblance to Mark Lenard and be the best actor for the part. I’m really hoping, considering the relationship between Sarek and Burnham, that we see Sarek occasionally through-out the series.

    The same goes for Rainn Wilson’s Harry Mudd. From what little we saw of him in the trailer, I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy this version of Mudd.

  • Fiery Little One

    Well, as far as Spock goes, he rarely talked about himself unless it was relevant. Sybok, for example.

  • All Patriot

    How is he INHERITING the role? “Writers” are so silly and overly dramatic.

  • Carrie Chavanne

    I’ve seen James Frain in many characters in his career, from Forney in What The Heart Wants to his portayl of Warrick in The White Queen and even his lesser known role in The Buccaneers. He has always managed to thrill and captivate me with his characters. They may start off bland but through subtle nuances he brings life into each role he plays. A lot of good actors have roles that are horrible, and it usually comes down to a lackkuster script. Although I will not be able to view this (I have neither platform available for US viewing) I hope he continues his long line of good acting. Personally I believe this was a good choice in casting.