Celia Rose Gooding as Uhura in 'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds'

Celia Rose Gooding Understands the Importance of Uhura’s Confidence on ‘Strange New Worlds’

Nyota Uhura has been a staple of Star Trek from the very beginning. Well, after “The Cage” but you know what I mean. She is of the utmost importance to the series as a whole and a character that is easily recognizable for her work on the Enterprise. Bringing her to life for a new generation though isn’t an easy task and Celia Rose Gooding has had the task of playing Uhura in Strange New Worlds. The joy though is watching the way they have mastered Uhura’s strength throughout the last two seasons!

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When I spoke with Celia Rose Gooding prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike back in July, we talked a lot about Uhura’s growth as a character and how in season one, she was questioning whether or not she even wanted to be a part of Starfleet in general. But in season 2, right at the start we see Uhura command her station and embrace her own abilities more so I asked Gooding what was the excitement in bringing that aspect of Uhura to life in season 2.

“I would say it’s so satisfying to finally play some confidence in her,” they said. “We know Lieutenant Uhura to be very steadfast, very sure of herself, very just open and bright and we see those things in young Uhura, but what we’re missing really is the competence and the security in the self. So to be playing her and growing with her and getting to fold in more moments of surety and confidence, like in that first episode of the season, we see her stand up to a member of ship maintenance. And I don’t think Cadet Uhura would’ve done that, I think Cadet Uhura would’ve been like, ‘you’re smarter than me. You know what’s supposed to be happening here.’ And Uhura being able to stand up and say, ‘you don’t know what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna mess this up. So let me take care of this first. I have a job to do. I have a job to do that.’ That was so satisfying to say just because I don’t think Cadet Uhura would’ve done this same thing.”

Bending the rules

Image of Celia Rose Gooding as Uhura in a scene from the "Children of the Comet" episode of 'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.' Uhura is a Black woman with close-cropped hair. She's standing to the side with her head turned toward the camera and wearing a grey and black space suit. Behind her are twinkling lights.
(Paramount+)

The Uhura we know later in her timeline will openly bend the rules of Starfleet if she trusts her captain. Mainly in her relationship to Captain Kirk. In that original series, she’d listen to him and help him and if it meant being the way to help him succeed, she’d do it. Right now in Strange New Worlds, she’s not quite there yet. There is a moment in season 2 between La’an (Christina Chong) and Uhura where the two have tension in their relationship and when I asked Gooding about that aspect of Uhura now, they were excited to explore Uhura’s relationship to the way of Starfleet in season 2.

“I think in episode 202 where she stands up to La’an, there was so much conversation between me, Christina and Valerie Weiss, the director of that episode, about why Uhura decides that not only this is what she’s going to stand up for, but who she’s standing up to. In the first season, I think Uhura and La’an’s relationship, I think Uhura was very intimidated by La’an and was very awestruck by just the power that she commands,” Gooding said. They went on to talk about how that second episode of season 2 really helped to inform them on where Uhura was. “I think in episode 202, as the crew continues to work with one another and continues to understand one another, I think for Uhura, the reasoning as to why she didn’t bend the rules was almost a rule break in itself. She was given an instruction by a superior officer and she doesn’t do that. I think that in itself is almost breaking a rule of her being like, ‘I’m not gonna do that because I care about you.'”

Which paints a different picture in the original series. When Uhura does bend the rules, it is rooted in her belief of what they’re doing which Gooding commented on. “When we see the original series, when she does Bend rules, the underlying purpose and the underlying drive for how she approaches rules given to her by superior officers, it is based in empathy,” Gooding said. “I think it is based in compassion. And I think that is something that comes so naturally from Uhura, is her compassionate nature. That’s why she does what she does, compassion and trust, of course. But there is definitely, in my mind, the arc of blindly following rules because she feels as though she must as a cadet and then developing a bit more trust in herself to trust her emotional compass of, ‘I am going to not do what I think my superior officer thinks I should do because I have trust in my knowledge and I’m gonna trust that so much. It’s going to be the thing that keeps me from following orders.’ And that requires confidence, that requires an extreme level of competence, especially going head to head with La’an Noonien-Singh. Like La’an is not somebody you wanna say no to.”

Channeling Nichelle Nichols

Lt. Uhura in Star Trek original series.
(CBS)

One of the more interesting aspects of newer actors taking on iconic Star Trek roles in the modern era is figuring out what about them they’ve brought into their own performances. For Gooding, it was all about the way Nichelle Nichols moved around the bridge of the Enterprise.

“I would say definitely her physicality. The way Nichelle carries herself on the bridge, like a dancer because of her dance background,” Gooding said. “And so a lot of the physical aspects of of her character were things that I took and really tried to memorize. Like the way she reaches for things ’cause a lot of Uhura’s work was done in the background of a lot of stuff. And so I didn’t really get to learn a lot about who she was as a person. I think there are moments in the original series that when Uhura had time to shine, it just didn’t feel practical. In the sense of like there was one episode that stuck with me. While it makes sense for that iteration of Uhura, I’m not bringing that to mind.”

Gooding went on to talk about how they didn’t want to focus on Uhura’s fear of “growing old” or her own insecurities of her beauty. Instead, they wanted to focus other aspects of that original Uhura to bring to life. “The idea that her greatest fear in the world is growing old and not feeling beautiful, I don’t think that’s her greatest fear. I think she’s a bit more developed than that,” Gooding said. “And so there are certain things that I’m leaving behind, but there are certain things like her curiosity and the song in her heart and the deep want that she has to make sure that everybody around her is doing okay emotionally. Her want to be the bright, not her want to be the brightest star, but she can’t help but be the brightest star in the room. Those sort of things are things that I’m keeping with me to really show and to bring a sense of recognizability in my aura for people who have been a fan of her for longer than I’ve been alive.”

The language of song

(Paramount+)

Our interview was prior to the musical episode announcement so I wasn’t aware that this was coming. My joy in finding this out afterward was exciting because I knew how good Gooding is. Making their Broadway debut in Jagged Little Pill and coming from Broadway royalty (their mother is LaChanze), I asked Gooding about singing since it is, in its own way, a language and Uhura is known for her linguistic abilities. She does briefly sing in season 1 but I asked about what they hoped for singing in Uhura’s future.

“I just want to continue to show her singing be the thing that soothes her. I would love to see her singing be the thing that soothes others as well,” Gooding said. “I want to see a moment of her singing and Spock playing the lyre just because we saw it in the original season. And I think we need to see some of that in Strange New Worlds.”

I’d also love to see Spock and Uhura doing more and more duets in the future of Star Trek and Gooding showed us throughout all of season 2 that they’re an absolutely incredible addition to the world of Star Trek!

(featured image: Paramount+)


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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.