‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ casting director Margery Simkin: COVID allowed us to ‘open the search really widely’ [Exclusive Video Interview]

When Anson Mount, Ethan Peck and Rebecca Romijn were cast on “Star Trek: Discovery” as Pike, Spock and Number One, respectively, little did casting director Margery Simkin know that it would lead to a spin-off, “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds,” that she obviously had to be part of. “They liked those cast members enough to decide to build a show around them so it would’ve been a real bummer if we didn’t get to do it,” Simkin quips to Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: Casting Directors panel (watch the exclusive video interview above).

Simkin and her partner Orly Sitowitz first saw Mount for the role of Lorca on “Discovery” after the “Hell on Wheels” alum sent in a self-tape from his New York City kitchen apartment. While he ultimately wasn’t right for that role, which went to Jason Isaacs, he was top of mind when it was time to cast Pike. “Jeffrey Hunter was the original Pike, a classically handsome gray-haired guy, so we pretty immediately thought of Anson and yet people wanted to re-tape him and we thought, ‘Oh no, we have to ask him to tape again,'” Simkin recalls. “He was in another kitchen and put himself on tape again. And that spirit of sportsmanship really sort of permeated everything we did.”

Mount’s double self-tapes also served as the “proof of concept” for Simkin and Sitowitz as they cast “Strange New Worlds” during the pandemic. Obviously in-person auditions were out of the question in 2020, but that just allowed them to cast a wider net to find the likes of Jess Bush (who plays Christine Chapel), Christina Chong (La’an Noonien-Singh, a relative of Khan), Celia Rose Gooding (a young Uhura), Melissa Navia (Erica Ortegas) and Babs Olusanmokun (M’Benga).

SEE ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ star Christina Chong on inspiring new generations

“It was very exciting for us to be able to do this stuff virtually because we could open the search really widely past the traditional agencies you usually reach out to… and really just bring in people from all over,” she explains. “We knew Jess for a couple of years, we brought her in for things, and she’d make it to the finals and people would wanna meet her but she wasn’t really established so flying her in from Australia seemed a stretch for them and daunting for those shows. What was great about COVID was everybody knew they couldn’t fly anybody in so they were willing to accept that. I mean, we did audition them on Zoom, thank you very much, Zoom — but I think because everybody had been Zooming so much with the writing [staff] and with their families that people really came to know and understand that you can make a connection in this medium.”

In fact, Simkin and Sitowitz didn’t meet the “Strange New Worlds” cast in person until very recently. “Orly and I just met the cast at the premiere of ‘Strange New Worlds,'” she reveals. “We met none of the actors in person until the premiere, which was really wonderful to see them in person.”

“Strange New Worlds” is already in production on Season 2, which will include the introduction of another iconic character: Captain James T. Kirk, who will be played by “The Vampire Diaries” alum Paul Wesley. “[It was] a lotta stress because you knew everybody was going to be judging,” Simkin says of finding the right person to play the character immortalized by William Shatner. “It’s challenging. We’re excited about him and we think the fans will be too. He has the charm and the stuff you’re looking for for that character and to sort of recreate. What I’m really proud of the cast for doing those roles is that they honor it – we honor it – but recreate it.”

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