Since 1966, the science-fiction series has featured a multinational crew and a variety of ethnicities were purposefully cast for roles. South Asians were among those featured since the original series.
Although there have been a few missteps, such as the casting of Hispanic actor Ricardo Montalban as the Sikh antagonist Khan — a character later completely whitewashed in 2013’s Star Trek: Into Darkness with Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan.
Trek, however, for the most part has been pro-active in its diverse casting and racial representation. And that’s certainly true of the Emmy-nominated Short Treks, which are 10-20 minute short episodes from across the Trek universe.
“Ask Not” gave the spotlight to a South Asian character, Starfleet Cadet Thira Sidhu, played by Indo-Canadian actress Amrit Kaur.
Before Beaming Up…
“The thing with actors, you’re either born a drama queen or not. So I was born a little too dramatic for my own good,” Kaur tells Avaaz on being an actor.
Kaur is a graduate of Toronto’s Acting Conservatory of York University. But for her, acting is a lifelong practice that requires training beyond theater school.
“I treat my training very much like a sport so I’m always practicing,” she says. She works with an acting studio with a group of actors and a mentor to hone her craft.
Her career skyrocketed about two years ago when she was cast in the movie Little Italy, which was her first substantial role that wasn’t a one-liner or a commercial spot. Then a year or so ago, she was cast in the Short Treks episode “Ask Not.”
And she’s no longer a drama queen in real life.
“I like to keep the drama in my acting and out of my life anymore,” Kaur says. “But sometimes I fail.”
Cadet Thira Sidhu Reporting For Duty
Kaur gets Kobayashi Maru’d in “Ask Not,” where she stars as Cadet Thira Sidhu. She’s caught in a no-win scenario as she must choose to either follow her orders or trust Captain Christopher Pike, who may be a traitor. And her choice will have dire consequences for her husband.
Once Kaur was cast, the role was tailored to her South Asian background. According to Kaur, the producers looked at a lot of ethnicities, trying to find the actor that captured the essence of the character. And Kaur was that performer.
“I really appreciate that,” Kaur says. “They were just looking for someone who can tell the story well.”
Both Kaur and “Ask Not” director Sanji Senaka collaborated to craft the character of Cadet Sidhu. They even discussed how much makeup Kaur would wear as Sidhu. Something that Kaur felt very strongly about.
“We don’t see a lot of average looking people on screen, especially with brown people,” Kaur says. South Asians don’t have to look like models, she adds.
“And I’m somewhere in the middle. So it was important for me to be bare faced,” Kaur says.
The (Acting) Force is Strong With Kaur
Kaur admits to not being much of a Star Trek fan before landing the gig. “I was a Star Wars fan. But I hear there’s no shame in that,” she says.
And there certainly isn’t! There’s a lot of similarity between Trek and Wars. As Kaur puts it, they’re all in the same trajectory. Oh, and she really loved picking up a phaser.
Although, Kaur lucked out and didn’t have much of the infamous Trek techno-babble.
“It was fantastic coming on the set,” Kaur says. She has nothing but praise for Anson Mount, who plays Captain Pike and whom Kaur played against.
“He was definitely a leader on set,” she says. A captain through and through, she adds, ensuring everyone on the crew was taken care of.
Have Phaser — Will Act
Because of the Sidhu’s dilemma in “Ask Not,” Kaur gets to portray a gamut of emotions — all within eight minutes of screen time.
In order to get into the head of her character, Kaur uses an acting technique called “substitution personalization,” where she associates what her character is going through with something from her life. She had a sub for Captain Pike and for Sidhu’s husband.
She also did a lot of research into military cadets, working very hard to get that stiff military posture. And put in time with her coach to ensure she was well-prepared when she beamed on set.
Boldly Going Into the Future
While Kaur’s Trek was a short one (pun intended), she’s not sure she’ll appear in the upcoming Captain Pike show, Strange New Worlds.
“I have no clue. Let me know if you find out,” she jokes.
In the meantime, she has a lot of other projects to keep her occupied, including a lead role on the Crave show The D-Cut. She’s also working on a script about an Indian woman who must pursue her education in secret lest her abusive Candian husband finds out.
Whatever tomorrow holds, we’ll be on the lookout for Kaur in many more projects.